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 ; Destination:Out (R.I.P.) ; Did Not Chart ; Diskant (R.I.P.) ; DIYSFL ; Dreaming (R.I.P.?) ; Dusted in Exile ; 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 ; Last Days (R.I.P.) ; Lexicon Devil ; Lost Prom (R.I.P.?) ; LPCoverLover ; Midnight Mines ; Musique Machine ; Mutant Sounds (R.I.P.?) ; Nick Thunk :( ; Norman ; Peel ; Plan B (R.I.P) ; PSF ; 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.]
Wednesday, April 03, 2019
Cowboy Music: Winners, Losers
& Eccentric Voices.
The track list for this mix CD began to coalesce way back in 2016, when, partly inspired by the extraordinary God Less America compilation LP, I started throwing together a mix of my favourite country songs with lyrics concerning death, murder, crime, suicide, substance abuse, imprisonment (or, in the case of Chuck Wells’ remarkable ‘Down & Out’, all of the above compressed into three minutes between choruses).
The plan changed somewhat however when – much to my delight - my brother asked whether I could compile a mix of “cowboy music” for him (emphasis on the pedal steel). So, I began widening the scope to cram in some classics from country’s ‘big names’, and various cuts that I felt neatly demonstrate the pleasure of the genre’s trademark sounds.
I’ll admit, the polyglot mix that eventually resulted doesn’t really serve as an effective ‘starter kit’ for exploring country music (where’s Dolly / Patsy / Tammy / Buck / Willie / George / Waylon for chrissakes?), and neither does it work very well as a collection of eccentric/bizarre narrative country songs. You will also no doubt note the presence of a number of artists whose inclusion within even the widest definition of the genre is extremely questionable.
But, nonetheless, I believe that this compilation succeeds beautifully in encapsulating the things I love about country music.
High on the list of those things, I think, is verses. Far more-so than choruses, I’ve always loved a f-ing good verse or two, and (for English speakers at least) country gives better verse value than any other popular music genre I’m aware of, excepting possibly hip-hop.
So, if you feel similarly, and if you’re unfamiliar with these songs, all I can say is - please take the opportunity to give them a listen, because every single one is a marvel.
00:00 Hank Williams – Ramblin’ Man
03:00 The International Submarine Band – Folsom Prison Blues / It’s Alright Mama
07:22 Jonathan Richman – Since She Started To Ride
09:53 Loretta Lynn – Bargain Basement Dress
11:32 Boxcar Willie – Truck Driving Man
14:21 Dave Dudley – Operation X
16:40 Jimmie Rodgers – Frankie & Johnny
19:27 Merle Haggard – The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde
21:30 Chuck Wells – Down and Out
24:35 Harry Johnson – It’s Nothing To Me
26:58 Gram Parsons – The Streets of Baltimore
29:49 Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra – Jackson
32:36 Arkey Blue – Too Many Pills
36:09 Bobby Gentry – Fancy
40:22 Lee Hazlewood – Pray Them Bars Away
42:57 Merle Haggard – Sing Me Back Home
45:44 Laura Cantrell – Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine
49:41 Tom T. Hall – It Rained In Every Town Except Paducah
52:32 Townes Van Zandt – Pancho & Lefty
56:12 Emmylou Harris – Wayfaring Stranger
59:38 The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
63:08 Dave Van Ronk – Hang Me, Oh Hang Me
66:18 Johnny Cash – San Quentin (live at San Quentin)
70:11 The Flying Burrito Brothers – Sin City
74:21 The Mekons – Lost Highway
Download links for mp3 version: one / two.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Ever since I started weblog writing all those years on, I’ve felt a kind of responsibility to mark the passing of musicians and sundry other creative types whose work has had an impact on me. These things always flit in and out of showbiz news feeds far too quickly for my liking (when they make it into them at all), so it behoves me to at least pay tribute before my own tiny audience.
Increasingly though, they are periods when they come in such a flurry it’s impossible to keep up… in addition to Dick Dale (see below), the past couple of weeks have seen the loss of Hal Blaine, who basically played drums on everything (seriously, I used to joke about instigating a drinking game based on how long you could spend reading allmusic.com or a mags like ‘Mojo’ before his name came up), Yuyu Uchida of Flower Travellin’ Band (also a fine actor and a wonderful, eccentric figure within Japanese pop culture across the decades), garage-punk affiliated r’n’b belter Andre Williams (think of him as, like, the ODB of the retro soul circuit), and now, suddenly staggering from a double heavy blow on this sunny Monday morning.
On the movies side of things, looks like we’ve been forced to say goodbye to Larry Cohen (one of my favourite directors, and one of the wildest and most gifted figures ever to labour in the trenches of commercial genre cinema), and on the music side... the last few minutes of the Today Programme as I finish by breakfast and run out the door (late as usual) brings the news that Scott Walker is no longer with us. (Nuff said.)
Though I’ve always loved his music (who else in the pop music realm can heft such a mad combination of awe, absurdity, fear, melancholy and simple, rockin’ pleasure?), I am not in a place right now where I feel like I could bang out a proper Scott Walker obit, and I can’t really bring myself to just fudge it with a few bits of career recap and personal anecdotes. So, I dunno… watch this space, I suppose. Maybe I never will feel I can write one. I mean, I’ve probably spent over fifteen years intermittently wondering how in god’s name one can properly respond to something like ‘Scott 4’ (never mind his later work), so I’m unlikely to figure out the answer in the next few hours. I know it’s a cop-out, but it just speaks for itself really, doesn’t it?
(Ok, one random anecdote before we move on: many years ago, back when all the critics were going ga-ga over ‘The Drift’, I had a dream in which I attended a secret Scott Walker concert, which took place in a small, classically decorated university seminar room, lined with book shelves and suchlike. Various musical figures and writer/critic types were present, and Walker sat at the piano with his face hidden by some kind of African tribal mask. He began to play and sing in a grating, formless, out of tune sort of fashion that (somewhat surprisingly, given his avant garde rep) offended the audience so much that they began heckling and trying to disrupt him. In response, he physically picked up the piano, and threw it, Incredible Hulk style, at the wall, where it destroyed a bookcase. The audience tried to flee, but found that the doors to the room were locked, whilst Scott meanwhile charged into the crowd and began violently attacking people. That’s all I recall. Perhaps there’s a dodgy ‘career overview’ level metaphor buried in there somewhere – thanks, my 2006 sub-conscious! - but I’m not desperate enough to need to go that route right now.)
The faster these deaths being to pile up, the emptier sections of my music & film collections become of still-living souls, the more I’m drawn to muse upon the horrible, banal inevitability of mortality and generational shifts.
It’s no secret, I suppose, that my cultural tastes remain rooted – presumably forever – in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I do my best to plug into contemporary stuff from time to time (still got a toehold at least in rock/noise music and ‘cult’ movies), but I always feel a bit of an outsider in the present, and it’s the time before my birth that I inevitably head back to for comfort. And, like the proverbial college lecturers perpetually grousing that their students don’t know who Humphrey Bogart is, it saddens me terribly to see this era, which still felt just-round-the-corner whilst I was growing up, fading inevitably into the mist of the historical past.
There’s nothing to be done about it – it’s simple maths, and the brutality of the ticking clock. The late ‘60s were now over 50 years ago, and most people who were doing stuff then would at least have been in their early ‘20s. Most people, basically, die in their ‘70s. Twenty plus fifty, equals. We are entering the phase in which that era – which still feels so alive, so relevant to me every time I put my headphones on or watch a movie – is beginning to disappear from living memory, just like the Second World War and the First World War have before it. Before too long, if we want to know something about the 1960s, we won’t be turning to the active participants anymore, we’ll be going straight to the history books and the newspaper archive.
To me at least, this realisation just hurts too fucking much. I’ll name no names, but there are certain people whom I’ve never met face to face (well, I have met one of them actually, but that’s another story) whose continued good health I cross my fingers and pray for almost every day – yet I know I’ll be here, trying to write about them, sooner or later.
That’s life, of course (particularly when you choose to live in the past), but it still stinks. And always, generational time ploughs on. People who were the-age-I-am-now when I first got into music are now just a few years away from being officially elderly. How long ‘til I’m writing about them? If time’s supposed to be relative, can’t it give us a break now and again? I mean, we’ve already got the punk obits coming almost as thick n’ fast as the hippie ones, as we hit the thin end of that generation’s mortality scatter graph.
I don’t know where I’m going with this, or how to segue it back into something that’s not utterly bleedin’ obvious, so here you go – it is what it is.
I could end flippantly and say, well, I bet The Rolling Stones will still be touring, and I still won’t bother going to see them – but a few years ago we could have said the same about AC/DC, or Motorhead. As we get older, new rituals and certainties become harder to identify and hang on to, as the old ones vanish. Or something. I don’t know.
Monday, March 18, 2019
“Listen to The King of the Surf Guitar,
Listen to The King of the Surf Guitar,
Listen, listen, to The King”
- sound advice from Dick Dale, The King of the Surf Guitar, on his 1963 vocal single, ‘King of the Surf Guitar’.
As witnessed by this classic recording, it is fair to say that Dick Dale was not without an ego. But, like the caricature of an all-American astronaut or pioneering surgeon, his energies were pushed so completely in the direction of positivity, productivity and general human dynamism that it really didn’t matter.
Harder, faster and more physically demanding than anything that preceded it in the popular realm in the early ‘60s (and pretty much retaining that distinction on his ‘roided up 90s comeback albums [see the awesome artwork for 1996’s ‘Calling Up Spirits’, reproduced above], the overdriven, bass-heavy, double-picking guitar style he made his trademark was wholly original, and remains instantly exhilarating to this day, whether it comes via the man himself or any of his countless successors in the field. To state the bleedin’ obvious, he is up there with Hendrix, Iommi and Chuck Berry in terms of his full spectrum influence upon the sound of electric guitar as we know it today.
Like those kids in “poor L.A.”, I was lucky enough to see Dick Dale play, about as far from the pacific surf as it’s possible to get, at the Luminaire in Kilburn in, I think, 2010 (I remember it was the night before I moved house). It was totally awesome, anyway. As was often the case, his backing band comprised former members of So-Cal punk legends Agent Orange, but it was definitely Dick who was large and in charge, like some Strat-wielding Colonel Kilgore, seemingly pushing his younger band-mates to play harder, faster, for longer. Plugged into a full stack in the small room, he was helicopter gunship loud, as we might reasonably have hoped.
I recall it being one of those shows where the headlining act are having such a great time that they just keep playing and playing, way beyond their allotted set time, seemingly oblivious to the audience thinning out as people duck out to get their last train home or relieve the babysitter. He played some numbers on the trumpet (just in case we didn’t believe he was a PROPER musician, he made clear), he sang ‘Peppermint Man’ at the piano, and delivered numerous thinly-veiled tributes to his own greatness.
No disagreements from this quarter. Slapping down the long term health problems that eventually got the better of him and touring the world kicking several hours-worth of ass on a nightly basis into his seventh decade, he gave every impression of being unstoppable back in 2010, endlessly roaring on like one of the super-charged vehicles his music so frequently evokes, and he could celebrate himself as much as he liked so far as I was concerned. Learning today that the engine has finally spluttered to a halt brings me great sadness. R.I.P.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
First Quarter Report: Jan/Feb Listening.
What better way to move on from all the dreadful crap below than by laying down some brief thoughts on new or re-issued things that have caught my ears in the first six weeks of 2019?
These blurry-eyed winter months are always a bit weird when it comes to music-listening. I’m not sure why, really. Does anyone else find that? They tend to find me scrabbling around here and there in the wake of the big, end-of-year cut-off point, grabbing hold of bit and pieces of sound that seem to appeal to me, but without really having the time to fully unpack anything before life steamrollers it out of the way and I find myself crawling back to something familiar instead. Maybe it’s just me?
Anyway, on the rare occasions that I haven’t been falling back into the comfort zone of ‘80s Bevis Frond, Motorhead or ‘70s James Brown, I’ve found myself willing to cautiously commend the following to your attention.
Pye Corner Audio.
After giving a tentative thumbs up here to some of his earlier records a few years back, I’ve subsequently lost track of Martin Jenkins’ recordings as Pye Corner Audio, but his new ‘Hollow Earth’ album finds me back on the case, simply because these Ghost Box LPs with the Julian House design work are so pretty and reasonably priced, it almost seems a crime not to buy them. After all, they won’t be around forever.
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, his 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 break-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. Bits of this even remind me of Goblin’s music from ‘Tenebrae’, which I love, and the whole thing sounds great through my amp and speakers for whatever reason [“PROBABLY BECAUSE I MASTERED IT PROPERLY,” yells the underappreciated mastering engineer somewhere in the distance]. So, yeah – awesome.
Durand Jones & The Indications.
Although the revival of classic soul / jazz / funk sounds that’s been picking up steam over the past few years has undoubtedly been a happy thing to witness, I’ve not fully engaged with it thus far, simply because, well…. there’s still no shortage of actual 60s / 70s soul records available at competitive prices in the second hand record shops I frequent, so why would I feel the need to dive head first into what is essentially a retro reconstruction of those sounds, when there is still so much of the “real thing” I’ve yet to become fully acquainted with..?
Which brings us neatly to my experience of turning on the radio one Sunday lunchtime a few weeks back and hearing ‘Morning in America’ by Durand Jones & The Indications, convinced that I was listening to the best, most f-ing epic, socially conscious ‘70s soul jam I’d heard in years. Real “HOW have I not heard this before?!” territory, y'know. Just, wow. In truth, by the time the (excellent) fuzz guitar break kicked in toward the end, I’d twigged that this was probably one of those new, fangled retro soul groups, but, for a few minutes there, they had me fooled pretty good.
Although I am currently only able to listen to three tracks from the band’s forthcoming ‘American Love Call’ LP on the Dead Oceans label, they are so good that I’m willing to consider the possibility that they mark the point at which the retro-soul movement not only matches but actually threatens to surpass the benchmark set down by Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack et al, officially breaking the back of recorded history and causing 2019 to blur straight back into 1972 as if the horrible, intervening years had simply not happened.
Given that it has basically been life-long dream to live in a perpetual replay of the early 1970s, this is fine with me I suppose, and, given the intimidating level of technical and vocal expertise required to make good soul music, I think we can hopefully be reassured that we won’t be looking at a repeat of the Great Garage Rock Collapse of the early ‘00s a few years down the line, with a cut-price version of the Detroit Spinners sloppily banging it out on every street corner, expecting us to be knocked out by their vintage threads and dues-paying cover versions.
Basically I think, it feels churlish in these dark times to turn yr nose up at sounds as essentially good and wholesome as these, regardless of vintage, so why not take this opportunity to get on board? (With apologies in advance is the unlikely event that the other nine cuts on the record turn out to be rubbish.)
One of the more exciting new bands I’ve scoped out recently on London’s DIY punk scene, Farce bravely move beyond the doggedly grooveless, second-practice level bleating h/c that sadly seems to form the inheritance of so many of these one-word-name, mayfly lifespan ensembles. Naturally this means embracing the grind, which they do in earnest, punching and tearing their way toward something approaching a multi-gendered, multi-ethnic reclamation of the early Napalm Death / Extreme Noise Terror sound – which is just as much of a fucking brilliant idea as it sounds, to be honest.
Well, I say that, but -- I’m not sure that that feeling, which I took from watching the band live, is quite captured on their demo, which takes a more of a straight-down-the-line crust / hardcore approach (not to mention some weird separation on the recordings, vocals are too high in the mix for my liking, and that bass sound on the bits where the other instruments drop out – jeezus). But, still, the sheer energy on this thing just kills, and the more grind adjacent tracks (‘Another Lie’, ‘Death By 1000 Cuts’) get where they need to go and then some.
True to form, the lyrics (as dutifully transcribed on the tape insert) sure ain’t subtle, but they certainly hit hard, getting straight to the point with a raw fury that snaps the neck of my middle-aged condescension. Great stuff. I hope this lot manage to hang around long enough to develop their sound and make a bit of an impact. Catch them playing amid the tear gas on a flatbed truck near you, should things really go Worst Case Scenario later this year [nervous laughter].
On the reissues front meanwhile, I’ve been very much enjoying this exceptionally nice example of what I suppose you’d call early electro-acoustic improvisation, in which analogue synth, flute, bassoon and cello find themselves playing side by side with ‘harmonic responses’ generated by a series of sound-generating algorithms programmed into whatever passed for a ‘microcomputer’ in 1977. (Just imagine the quantity of Bakelite involved!)
As Behrman evocatively puts it in his sleeve notes for the current reissue on the aptly named Lovely Music label, the ‘On the Other Ocean’ sessions grew from a collective enthusiasm for “..homemade electronics with its mysterious knobs, its lexan enclosures with the screw holes drilled not quite in the right places and its hand-wired circuit boards inside; for idiosyncratic brews of electronic timbres that were not trying to imitate the sounds of the real world.” Nice.
Regardless of the processes that brought these recordings about however, 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.
Speaking of which….
Headroom was formerly a solo project of Kryssi Battalene, lead guitarist of New Haven, CT’s Mountain Movers (see review in my botched end of year list below), but it has seemingly been expanded to a full band line up for ‘New Heaven’ (see what they did there?), a new 12” of sprawling, loose-limbed psychedelic rock on the Ever/Never label.
Reviews I’ve read have all pulled Bardo Pond out of the bag as the go-to reference point here, and, though I would contend that Bardo’s approach is significantly removed from anything found here (cf: far thicker guitar textures, flute, structured / dramatic song construction etc), I can nonetheless see where they’re coming from.
I mean, there’s (sadly) very little else in the canon of Great American Rock Music that you can reach for to get a bead on this sort of thing, wherein slo mo bass and drum hits groove away in perfect, quaalude-fucked unison whilst a small fortune’s worth of dearly beloved pedals are fed to the gaping maw of Battalene’s speaker cabinet, conjuring weirdly bucolic, green-tinged swathes of fungal, feedbackin’ magnificence, occasionally accompanied by breathy, wordless delay/reversed vocals, like music to accompany the sensation of gazing at bacteria through a microscope in Biology class, a day or so after your first ever acid trip, whilst the sun is shining outside, and really you just want to go and run around and stick your face in the grass.
Or, that’s what I get out of it, anyway. I could listen to music like this forever basically, so I’m happy to have it. 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.
Thursday, February 07, 2019
….Three Times and it’s Enemy Action.
Update, 11/2/19: If some of my accusations in the post below seem a little obscure, I refer readers to this helpful article posted this morning on The Quietus, which is far from obscure. Please read it and draw your own conclusions.
When I composed the post below, I was still reeling with disbelief to a certain extent. On reflection, I'd like to put things even more clearly: even in the extremely unlikely event that Matthew Bower were to offer an apology and disavowal of his actions and associations, I still have no place in my life for anyone who could even get within spitting distance of these hateful ideologies.
Personal forgiveness - sure, why not, it's possible, but I don't know the guy personally and neither do I wish to at this point. Artistically speaking, this music is tainted - he's off the creative register so far as I'm concerned, and I'd encourage all readers to reflect this in their future listening & purchasing choices. It has long been my belief that the best way to deal with fascists, racists and the like is to let them know that their views place them outside of any civilised discourse or culture, and that they have no one to blame but themselves when they are excluded from it.
Following this public 'outing', I'm sure that Bower's assorted band names will continue to flourish in the nasty far right subculture he increasingly seems to have been moving toward in recent years. So be it, but it's up to the rest of us to stay strong and ensure that the numbers willing to support this subculture remain sufficiently small to prevent it's denizens from, say, making a living or gaining any wider recognition through their activities.
Of course, in respect to the Bower issue, I feel like a complete idiot for failing to put the necessary pieces together to get the full picture until now. They've all been there, hiding in plain sight. I'll have to try to be more careful in future.
I'm sure there must be other fans, promoters, label owners and fellow musicians who feel the same. Now that everything is pretty much out in the open, I hope that they will have the strength to act appropriately and to let him and others like him know that their presence is no longer welcome in any self-respecting music scene or record collection.
Unlike some sick fantasists on the far right, I'm not keen on re-writing history, so, after some reflection, I've decided to leave the words I've written about Skullflower, Sunroof, Hototogisu etc in the past on this blog untouched. I've removed all links however, and have added a link to this post, just to clarify matters.
That's my final word on the subject for the moment - my original post from last week is below.
Ack. I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth this evening.
With typically horrid timing, less than two weeks after I christened Skullflower #1 in my 2018 records list, I’ve been appraised of some fairly regrettable evidence concerning Matthew Bower’s political associations – ironically via the man himself, who has chosen to reproduce images of an email containing said evidence on his band’s weblog.
Now – I don’t want to be the kind of person who permanently writes off an artist just based on their use of an ‘improper’ phrase or image or something. As any fool knows, there’s enough space in art for reinterpretation, reclamation, differing understandings and legitimate provocation concerning just about anything, and where possible I like to give ‘em enough rope. Aforementioned evidence however suggests that, in this case, Bower has been quietly fashioning a pretty swell noose for himself in recent years. (I’m not posting any links here, but I’m sure you can probably google up all the gory details, should you wish to.)
As the author of the reproduced email readily admits, any of the presented exhibits, could, if taken alone, amount simply to a mistake, a misunderstanding, a “we’re apolitical and don't judge other people’s beliefs, man” black metal-style cop-out, or a snarky attempt at humour, even allowing for the fairly vile character evident in several of them. But, as another hoary old racist once observed: once is a happenstance, twice is a coincidence…. and you know the rest (see post title, above).
I take no pleasure in writing this – it both upsets and angers me. Bower’s music is unique, and I have enjoyed his recordings for many years, under many different guises – moreso than ever recently. I don't like the idea of cutting it out of my life, but what else can I do; I don’t want to hear those sounds congealing like rotten fruit.
As to anger meanwhile, it pisses me off immensely that I’ve given the guy money, and have encouraged readers here to do likewise. I don’t like giving my money to people who are dicks (and, being a UK tax payer, I’m obliged to do so quite enough without bloody noise guitar players getting in the way).
I dunno man….. sometimes I wonder. I’ve always taken comfort from the fact that the vast majority of people involved in underground music are basically Good Johnsons, in the parlance of a hoary old (alleged) misogynist, but it increasingly seems that, the further we venture Beyond The Fields We Know, the more likely we are to encounter people like this, with affiliations of the most pathetic, hateful, puerile, lunatic variety hidden away in their back pocket – kept ambiguous and out of sight lest they hurt the knob-twiddling careers of these brave ary*n mystic warriors. (Seems as if that ‘Hidden Reverse’ David Keenan wrote about way back when has been developing some really nasty warts.)
But, I’m getting rhetorical here, so I should reel it in. I could go on, but let’s just say that it’s a stone fucking drag, and leave it at that.
Monday, January 28, 2019
2018: BEST NEW RECORDS.
(Part # 2 of 2)
In view of the top # 5 selections below, I would like to clarify that I did not actually spend 2018 listening exclusively to psychedelic / noise rock from the North of England. Sometimes I listened to psychedelic / noise rock from the Midlands or the West Country too!
But seriously folks, what can I say… with regard to the multifarious other musical itches I need to scratch, it’s been *old stuff* that’s been providing the goods in recent years (which is to say, *newly discovered by me* old stuff, rest assured I’ve not just been blubbing over my old CDs in the attic), and, this is a list of NEW RECORDS, so… what can I say? By and large, it has been the amplifier-abusing denizens of the North who have still been doing the business re: regularly producing music that’s caused me to sit up and take notice. I have no personal connections whatsoever with these musicians, I’ve never visited most of their home towns, and I’ve never even seen many of them perform live – but there it is, take it or leave it, they are the ones who are currently allowing me to maintain a slight toehold on post-2010 musical culture.
Note, 7/2/19: If you're reading this post, please also read this one. Obnox is now honorary number one. It's positive discrimination, motherfucker.
1. Obnox – Templo Del Sonido LP
Much like his fellow garage-punk survivors in Midnight Mines, Thomas seems to have responded to the creative deterioration of the scene that supported him by embracing noise, deconstruction and torturous DIY experimentation of one kind or another – but with very different results, needless to say. As difficult to hang with as the band name implies, Obnox mixes torrents of unapproachable, pedal-borne industrial skree with a chopped n’ screwed gangsta rap sensibility, each cutting through the remaining bones of some kind of blown out, rust-belt blues-punk aggro. It is heavy, unsavoury shit, whichever way you want to cut it.
At some point in the recent past, some bright spark at the Astral Spirits label seemingly asked Thomas to record a “free jazz album”. Rounding up a motley bunch of local collaborators, he seems to have gone about this task with gusto, and, if the resulting recordings veer so far from what one might reasonably term a “free jazz album” as to miss the mark entirely, they nonetheless made a really fucking good album, which I'm sure we can all agree is the main thing.
‘America in a Blender’ sets the tone for what follows, with a solitary horn dropping a mangled field of skree deep in the mix beneath Thomas’s earth-shaking, digitally-fucked distortion and disjointed drum tracks, as his bad-phone-line vocal bristles with barely comprehensible fury as he exhorts his fellow citizens to “..wake your punk ass UP” – the perfect opening to a characteristically punishing LP that frequently sounds like a demented, apocalyptic gutter-punk counterpoint the recent up-tick in socially conscious black music repped in the mainstream by the likes of Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar.
On several tracks here, a guy named Morgan Phelps is credited with playing “warr guitar”, which as I understand it is some kind of twelve string bass. Needless to say, he gets far more convincing results from it than the guy from Cheap Trick ever did. On the instrument’s seven minute showcase ‘War Guitar’, extreme low end frequencies roar and shake alarmingly against Thomas and Chuck Cieslik’s equally damaged, killer wasp treble fuzz and wolf howls of pure feedback, exploding dangerously against the top end of the frequency range, resulting in a track that sounds like some strung out, alcoholic Transformer with earth-quake pounding arms tearing down a liquor store, crushing the bricks to dust.
After this, it’s mighty relief when Thomas & co temporarily nix the noise for arguably the album’s stand-out track, ‘Names’, proving they’ve got the chops to knock out a convincingly muscular slice of shimmering, cosmic funk – an exquisite backing track for poet Kisha Nicole Foster and vocalist Ngina Payola to do their suitably furious thing as guest artistes, calling out for spirits of those left dead or crushed by the accelerating inner-city turmoil reflected in the head-against-wall anxiety attack of Obnox’s more aggressive material – a more reflective POV shared by the exhausted and fragmentary ‘Gotta Keep Fighting’, which sounds like the ghost of an early ‘70s Norman Whitfield production being received second hand through an EVP radio séance.
From there, ‘Templo del Sonido’s second half heads back to the grind, like the sound of a city tearing itself apart; lingering fragments of rationality or comprehension are blown to pieces by incendiary bombs of jagged, speaker-toppling mayhem, each instrument suffused with a hellish miasma of effects-box carnage, as Thomas’s voice rants and seethes almost subliminally, like some hi-jacked police radio band spewing abuse on the last day before everything goes up in smoke. As an aural reflection of the kind of desperate shit that has presumably been going down on the ground level during the USA’s current cluster-fuck, Obnox feels right on the money.
Listen & buy via bandcamp.
2. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – King of Cowards LP
I’ve been lucky enough to see this band play live three times over the past few years – most recently a dangerously crammed sell-out at the Moth Club in Hackney – and on each occasion, they haven’t just been good, they’ve been verifiably awesome. Genuinely one of the most thrilling live rock bands around, they bring an exultantly positive spirit to the stage that, until recently, has perhaps been lost in the doomy murk of their recordings, scooping up the audience like so much rice from the metaphorical barrel. (And they play like absolute group-mind bastards too, needless to say.)
Seriously - sneer all you like, but catch these guys live and you will be floored. Likewise, if the recently acquired Radio 6/Guardian vibes put you off, I’ll simply ask you to play through ‘King of Cowards’ and point out the bits that do not legitimately rock.
Seemingly realising that it the brief Sweet Relief was the track that most connected with people in-between the two mammoth wig-outs on their previous album, the band’s decision to compress their sprawling jams into a series of more pointedly structured, battle-ready Sabbathian scorchers has proven an extremely wise one. Less an aesthetic sell-out (and let’s be honest, if you think the idea a rock band recording sub-ten minute songs constitutes some kind of betrayal, you probably need to check your head and/or weed intake), the move to shorter material feels more like a natural progression, allowing Pigs to lay down an album that more convincingly reflects the energy of their live performances.
None-more-classic influences are, as ever, easy to spot – Black Sabbath’s elemental riff henge, the pulsating, afterburner dirge of Hawkwind, and the increasingly frequent moments in which Matt Baty’s voice breaks and rasps as if he’s channelling Lemmy himself - but [sorry, cliché alert] the band are really growing into their own identity here too, establishing a cross-genre sound that’s purely their own and driving it as hard as it’ll go before the engine blows.
THAT particular groove that presumably succeeded in getting ‘em on the radio (cf: ‘GMT’ and ‘Cake of Light’)? I mean, I’m not quite sure how best to put this in relation to an ostensible doom/psyche/whatever group, but… it’s a bit, dare I say, glam? A bit Glitter Band / Slade? You know, that kind of platform-booted “stomping-down-the-street” feeling? Or am I going crazy? It sure seems to be getting them places anyway, so stomp on, boys. The way they ‘tease’ the riffs, building ‘em up and knocking ‘em down again, on ‘GMT’ and ‘Shockmaster’ is similarly inspired – a move perhaps inspired by playing to live audiences? - and when the full band proceeds to hit it full force… oh boy. We’re talking Panzer Divisions of Love, ploughing through the barricades, or whatever.
Keeping their recording process ‘in-house’ was, I’d venture, another great move, and guitarist Sam Grant’s production here is f-ing fantastic, mustering constant, edge-of-feedback bombast that sounds simultaneously crystal clear and brutally gnarly, ripped with muscular Oh Sees-ish contempo psyche signifiers and crushing, compressed-metal burn; heavy as a warehouse full of Relapse overstock, yet more fun than a B-52s tribute night.
Quite where Baty’s anguished lyrical reflections are supposed to fit into all this, who knows, but, like everything else about this band, it nonetheless just seems to gel so well, the longer tracks (‘A66’ in particular) cutting through the fun & games with a suffocating, Viking funeral intensity, the frontman howling through the maelstrom, driven to some kind of mad, impassioned excelsis. His climactic cries of “hold on” on closing track ‘Gloamer’ come on like Ahab rallying his crew as their harpoons pierce the hide of the white whale – and, for anyone still missing the fifteen minute numbers, let’s just say that if eight whole minutes of that shit doesn’t leave you satisfied, you should probably seek help.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
3. David Terry – Sorrow tape
“Conjured up primarily from voice, keys, Fursaxa-esque accordion drones and a touch of distant, thumping percussion to keep time, there is a carefully wrought sense of slow mo melodicism to these pieces that set them apart from the vast majority of Terry’s lonesome tape droning contemporaries. The layers he builds come together with a more deliberate intent than the kind of accidental / circumstantial methodology that often governs such things, sometimes sounding like the moment of sublime tonal union when everything comes together in some grand classical piece, stretched out and extended across a 20+ minute duration. It’s pretty great.
Emotionally-speaking, ‘Sorrow’ belies the expectations of its title and cover art by neatly side-stepping the over-bearing affectations of woe and world-denying misanthropy that ensnare so many metal bands, instead evoking a more honest, more hopeful field of melancholic drift, suggestive of a deep immersion both in the contemplation of nature, and in the gleaming spires of the distinctly old school, capital ‘R’ Romanticism that so often accompanies it.
Far from the blackened deep space explorations of Bong’s earlier career, the feel Terry conveys here recalls the band’s inspired use of Turner’s ‘Thompson’s Aeolian Harp’ on the cover of their We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been LP from 2015, and – for me at least – it is a very good feel to find oneself on the receiving end of.”
Listen and buy download from Opal Tapes.
4. Bridget Hayden –
Pure Touch Only From Now On, They Said So LP
A set of home recordings united only by their raw, analogue fidelity and creative use of structure-dissolving distortions, ‘Pure Touch..’ finds Hayden working in a mode somewhat reminiscent of the early (and I would now consider, best) work of Charalambides, or the sublimated song forms of Grouper, but with a considerably harsher edge than either cutting through the reverb.
Led by a voice wraithed in a hill-smoke shroud of effects, ‘Don’t Knock on Your Door’ merges Hayden’s wordless lament with a tangled web of gnarled electric guitar, whilst the brief ‘On Your Way’ is senselessly beautiful, a time-stopping folk spirit ripped from the unlikely plastic guts of a four-track. Piano-led lamentation ‘Fires For Sorrow’ is nigh-on unbearable, touching on a graveside melancholy strong enough to ward off any hint of cliché or sentimentality; just devastating stuff. This leads straight into ‘Cold Steel Rain’, which largely follows suit, stretching this same feel into another extended string n’ voice meditation on weird, sub-lingual grief, its gently overdubbed choral reflections interrupted by disorientating, blown out bass frequencies that butt in rudely, like ghosts at a particularly lurid feast.
Elsewhere, malevolent, Vertical Slit-esque noise-rock rears its head, with the lengthy ‘There Was a Branch Breaking’ in particular standing out as a spirit-sapping downer, the light of glowing, witch fires only just creeping first toward the end of it’s nine minute moorland trudge. In fact, there is often a hostile, depressive kick to these recordings than scratches hard against their corresponding ethereal tendencies.
Reflecting Hayden’s apparent disdain for sullying her music with language, it is difficult to convey in words quite what a remarkable record this is. If anything I’ve written above strikes a chord with you, I would highly recommend spending some time with it.
Listen and download from bandcamp; vinyl available via Early Music.
5. Earthling Society – MO: The Demon LP
The Boxer’s Omen [known to Hong Kong audiences simply as ‘Mo’], there is probably not much I can say that will adequately prepare you for the experience of watching it. If you can find a copy, you’re probably best advised to just take a deep breath a dive in. It’s sink or swim territory, for sure.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fleetwood-based psychedelic rock band Earthling Society meanwhile, well… that’s a slightly easier one to get a grip on. A quick listen to their superb 2014 LP England Have My Bones should do the trick rather nicely.
To my great personal delight, 2018 saw these two unlikely cultural touchstones coming together, as the admirable Riot Season label [three separate entries on the this here Top 20 makes them Stereo Sanctity Label of the Year with a bullet – congrats!] presented the world with the vinylised results of a 2017 recording session that saw the aforementioned band blagging their way into a well-appointed studio at Leeds College of Music to record their own alternative soundtrack to the aforementioned movie. So… what more could the adventurous listener possibly need to know? Let’s dive in and try out our best astral front crawl within the psychotropic tide-pool of fire-gargling racket that must surely have resulted!
Well, I say that, but actually, whereas one would have imagined Fred Laird and his band-mates taking the opportunity to unleash a raging cacophony of molten, tentacle-slashing fuzz guitar chaos to match the hair-raisingly outré content of Kuei’s film (and to be honest, I’d probably have been fine with that), the band instead spin their interpretation of ‘Boxer’s Omen’ off in some entirely unexpected directions, perhaps riding some heroic contrarian impulse or other, perhaps taking inspiration from the film’s date of production, or perhaps simply taking advantage of the vintage gear lying around in the LCM studio.
Whatever the case, the LP is a real side-step of a third eye opener, mixing up familiar heavy psyche tropes with a lively smorgasbord of repurposed ‘70s art-rock / ‘80s mainstream tones, the prominence of which presumably led the band to throw shout-outs to stuff like Berlin-era Bowie and Magazine into the album’s press release.
And indeed, opener ‘Theme from MO – The Demon’ inaugurates a beautifully crystalline, clean-ish guitar tone, seemingly ripped through some kind of holy, Taoist chorus pedal, surfing atop Fairlight shimmers and strange, quasi-Asian riffs picked out on some synth bell thingy. Driven by a propulsive, upbeat groove from rhythm section, it sounds suspiciously like the kind of thing that theoretically COULD grace the opening titles of some neon-glazed, atmospheric ‘80s horror movie – if admittedly one that would have you leaping out of your seat to frantically try to google up details on who the hell composed this extraordinarily rockin’ music, especially once some slightly more contemporary, delay-wracked noise textures start creeping in toward the track’s end.
Both noise and groove continue to build across ‘King Boxer’, with E.S.’s highly rhythmic, multi-layered approach to instrumental psych creating a joyous, kaleidoscopic kung fu soundtrack of MDMA-addled dreams, summoning images of flipped out fighters flipping and kicking their way through a bottomless Shawscope vortex or mylar-textured deformities. As is only appropriate under the circumstances, I suppose.‘Inauguration of the Buddha Dome’ takes a darker turn, nixing much of the groove for an unanchored sinister noise exercise, more redolent I suppose of the film’s frequently foul and disturbing imagery, leading the way into the tangled, narcotic tendrils of ‘Mountains of Bliss’.
Soon enough though, the positive vibes are back in spades and the good guys are kicking ass again, ending Side A with the self-explanatory ‘Super Holy Monk Defeats Back Magic Motherfucker’. Here, gong-like synth washes drift back and forth across the stereo field as Laird dons the funny hat and goes full on Mr Vampire, coaxing a glowing morass of multi-layered eterno-riff ectoplasm from his axe. Thank you and good night, Black Magic Mofos - mission accomplished!
Given that the print of ‘Boxer’s Omen’ I watched does not conclude with a thirty-minute coda in which the surviving boxer chills out and gets high whilst recuperating at an Alpine ski lodge, I’m going to assume that this where the movie soundtrack stuff ends, because Side B here brings a different vibe entirely.
Initially, echoed spoken word fragments from actual Asian person Bomi Seo accompany passages of glacial, Eno-esque synth drift, leavened by some blissful, Philip Glass-esque slow mo melodies, like music for a particularly far-out documentary on movement of ice floes in the North China sea, before E.S.’s monolithic psych reasserts itself once more, the band sounding a little more relaxed and free-form than on the A, with Laird’s lead lines sounding particularly majestic, before the first of two lengthy tracks simmers down again for a quitter, more experimental conclusion, as unglued vocal fragments and meandering xylophone improvisations gradually fade away over a fairly long period of time.
Further surprises grace the final track, with an unexpected outburst of sitar-driven, Glastonbury fayre psych-pop, featuring the album’s only real singing, as Laird repurposes a chunk of Fred Neil’s ocean-skippin’ stonage for a brief, delightful bit of ‘Revolver’/Traffic bed-head reverie, before the full E.S. sound once again fades back in, fuzzed out SF ballroom stasis dancing us way out to the merry end of whatever the hell this thing is now the movie’s finished, to triumphant effect.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
6. Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO –
Reverse of Rebirth in Universe LP
BUT - and you probably saw this one coming - I would urge those who feel themselves in sympathy with the viewpoint expressed above to give ‘Reverse of Rebirth in Universe’ a spin before getting to work on the AMT vinyl bonfire.
Having inaugurated a “new generation” line-up for the band in 2017 with the recruitment of a hot new rhythm section (AMT Juniors?), Kawabata and equally venerable founding member Higashi Hiroshi now seem to have been further energised by the addition of a full time vocalist – one Jyonson Tsu – and ‘Rebirth..’ sees the newly-minted five piece returning to some of AMT’s signature riffs with a spirit of spring cleaning freshness, resulting in a work that anyone who ever dug the band’s golden age recordings should be able to appreciate.
Eschewing the cyclopean heavy metal cacophony that tended to characterise many previous iterations of ‘Dark Star Blues’, the tune’s distinctive, Arabesque riff is here picked out on bouzouki as a kind of gentle, string-tanglin’ folk groove swings into effect, shaped and led by Tsu’s wordless(?), rhythmic vocalisations. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid comparing Tsu’s drifting, spaced out glossolalia to Damo Suzuki’s work with Can all those years ago, but regardless, he makes for an extremely appealing addition to the AMT sound, managing not to outstay his welcome even across 10+ minutes of churning, wigged out riffage. Of course, the expected torrents of strangulated feedback guitar and knob-twisting UFO synth abuse make an appearance later on in the track, but there’s a sense of purpose and a degree of subtlety at work here that’s great to hear from a band who have for so long dwelt at the furthest edges of self-indulgence.
An equally beautiful recording (Kawabata’s production here is especially superb), ‘Black Velvet Blues’ drags AMT back to some extent to ‘90s PSF territory, establishing a rarefied, shadowy atmosphere that perhaps even Keiji Haino wouldn’t turn his nose up at in one of his mellower moments. Slow, brooding tremolo chords crash headfirst into knotty clusters of strung out noise before the rhythm section manages to establish a mournful, head-nodding groove upon which Tsu makes his entrance, his vocals lending an eerie, oneiric feel to proceedings that really sends me. Where exactly, I’m not sure (a deserted, autumnal island if some kind, perhaps?), but so long as it’s SOMEWHERE, I’m happy.
On the flip meanwhile, ‘Black Summer Song’ takes a more experimental path, opening with string-chiming temple vibes and gnarly fragments of amp detritus, before Tsu’s ‘Future Days’-esque muttering rise alongside a swathe of beatific synth and drone textures. Drummer Nani Satoshima’s busy, burbling chops soon help initiate us into the realm of pure tape-choppin’, radio dial-spinnin’ Candemonium, with Kawabata riding the waves as is his want, dropping fried solos hither and yon – but, crucially, this session finds him feeling considerate enough toward his new bandmates to bow out before he goes completely overboard, leaving us to enjoy lengthy, guitar-free segments of weirdly blissful, perma-stoned Cologne-via-Osaka ambience.
In short then - if you can ditch the baggage and get with it on its own terms, ‘Rebirth..’ proves to be an intensely rewarding slice of long-form psychedelic rock; largely devoid of goofery or excess, it is arguably the best AMT record in years.
(And, it has absolutely fantastic artwork too, as any fool can plainly see. Mine has a different coloured background to the jpg reproduced above, and I like it more, but whatev.)
Listen and buy via Riot Season.
7. Greg Ashley – Fiction is Non-Fiction d/l
For better or for worse, ‘Fiction is Non-Fiction’, an album length grab-bag of recordings quietly dropped onto his Bandcamp page in November, certainly doesn’t pull any punches in this regard, with Ashley taking his lyrical hatchet to such matters as the U.S. / North Korean nuclear stand-off (‘Thick Red Line’) and the moral bankruptcy of the “post-truth” era (“if fiction is the truth, let fiction try”, sneers the title track).
As well as expanding the range of his subject matter though, this collection finds Ashley stretching his legs a bit musically too. ‘Dissociative Pills’ marks a striking return to the kind of haunted, baroque garage-psych that he used to proffer in his bands Gris Gris and The Mirrors. A doomed lament for the love of a lady who seems to be a French school teacher, the song mixes some lyrics that border on brilliance with others so wantonly egregious they might have had a late period Serge Gainsbourg reaching for the tippex (I’ll leave it to the reader’s discretion to determine which is which). But, the fuzz-enhanced arrangement barrels along so persuasively, and Ashley spits out his verse with such depth of feeling, it’s difficult not to surrender and let yourself get drawn in to the unsavoury drama of the whole affair.
Elsewhere, the musical approach regresses further, arriving at the level of pure, snot-nosed drunken punk for the self-explanatory ‘Fuck The Army’ (a definite highlight), and then there’s ‘Blondes & Cyanide’ - a PC-baiting, POTUS-threatening outburst, positively writhing with disgust (both inward and outward-looking), that unexpectedly succeeds in delivering the best bad taste punk rock chorus of the decade. (Seriously, check it out.)
In between all this impotent rage meanwhile, things get pleasantly weird. ‘Indian Summer’ briefly recalls the shimmering, psychedelic reveries of 2007’s ‘Painted Garden’ album, ‘Karen and Catalina are Drinkin’ in Heaven’ is a doggedly repetitive waltz commemorating a pair of suicide victims (it’s one of this album’s surprisingly rare returns to the “drug addiction as pathetic abdication of human responsibility” themes that dominated ‘..Saint Paul Street’ too), and an acoustic cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Schizophrenia’ makes one wonder at the uncanny extent to which the song’s opening verses sound like the kind of thing Greg Ashley would probably write.
Doubtless many listeners will be apt to deem some of the stuff Ashley sings about here tasteless, poorly thought out or just plain unappealing. There are moments when I’d agree with them, but hey, at least he’s never boring (which by my count puts him one up on every other human being who still persists in singing whilst holding an acoustic guitar), and there is an unfiltered grit and mad beauty to his music that is all too rare in these dark days, and that keeps me coming back for more. Somewhere in The Great Beyond, Warren Zevon and Laughin’ Len raise a glass to his efforts.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
8. Melting Hand – Faces of Earth LP
Hitting a pretty much perfect middle ground between all the instrumental heavy psyche stuff that has tended to dominate my ‘best of…’ lists on this blog in recent years, ‘Faces of Earth’ is a whole ton of fun. Opener ‘Dust’ spins out on a great, propulsive groove from Mr Fug, a sweet silver surfin’ guitar riff gradually leading the band to an exhilarating, free form white-out, wrenching acres of sweet fuzz from the miniature city of flashing lights arrayed at their collective feet.
The decision to cover ‘Earth’ from the Joe Henderson / Alice Coltrane album I reviewed here meanwhile also proves an inspired one, sitting alongside Earthling Society’s epic reimagining of ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ in the extremely rarefied sub-genre of contemporary British heavy psych bands getting to grips with cosmic jazz classics. Hearing Vest force Henderson’s central sax riff through his everything-on-all-the-time guitar set up is a joy, and if the track’s subdued middle section, featuring a spoken word intervention from Lower Slaughter’s Sinead Young (reworking Kenneth Nash’s stoned incantations on the original) initially feels a bit awkward, repeat plays see it settling in nicely, preparing the ground for a thunderous full band return to the riff; both Andrau and Adams make their presence felt here beneath Vest and Watson’s characteristic maelstrom, sending skittering, neck-scraping noise and electronic echo trails ricocheting through the mix.
Back down to “earth” (ha), side B opens up with some seriously punkoid, uptempo riff rock on ‘Terra’. Recalling the maximalist stoner-fuzz moves of Vest’s recent work with Blown Out and Dodge Meteor, the track even accelerates to the point where it begins to sound like some weird, mutant cousin of ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’ for a few bars. Wowza. ‘Giaia’ is more laidback, relatively speaking, functioning as a great work out for the rhythm section, with the pedals and amps of the noise-makers growling and hissing behind them, before the closing ‘Dirt’ kicks in with a monolithic, doom tempo trudge, its simplistic, two-part riff pushed to the edge of oblivion, lumbering under the weight of what sounds like about a hundred delay-addled, feedbackin’ guitar overdubs. It was this one, I think, that really blew my mind when the band drove into total oblivion during the Desertfest set I wrote up here. Much like Vest’s Haikai No Ku project, it’ll prove an endurance test for some, but a city-crushed-to-dust bliss for devotees such as myself. After thirteen minutes of that, well – job done, needless to say.
Listen & buy via Hominid Sounds.
9. Mountain Movers – Pink Skies LP
(Trouble in Mind)
Admittedly, this approach does lead to the impression of second guitarist / vocalist Dan Greene being rather side-lined here, especially given that much of ‘Pink Skies’ remains instrumental, but his presence as an oft-silent partner still proves important, lending structure to what otherwise feel like a fairly directionless bunch of rehearsal jams, particularly on album highlight ‘Snow Drift’, in which his spoken word tale of trying to make it home during a blizzard allows the song to really take flight, with Battalene’s feedback whiteout crashing in to ecstatic effect after a trudging, slushy build-up.
Though of a considerably rougher hue, the song reminds me of simple pleasures I used to experience in simpler times, zoning out to Galaxie 500 or Yo La Tengo’s noisier moments as if they were the first, last and only music on the planet to touch such heights. I thank them for the memories.
For a band vaguely located somewhere on the indie-rock spectrum to still push quite so much electrifying racket into the atmosphere circa 2018 seems little short of miraculous. Perhaps the relative isolation of Newhaven, CT helps? I dunno. Anyway, it’s spiriting to know that bands like this can still attain escape velocity without having to front like they’re anarcho-punks or folkies or psychedelic warlords or metalheads or jangle-pop fundamentalists or whatever. Just playin’, man, that’s all it is. It can get results.
(Really not sure about that cover art though, I’ve got to say.)
Listen & buy via bandcamp.
XXX. Skullflower –
Werecat Powers of the Crossroads at Midnight LP
Nashazphone label (this is the second, following last year’s The Black Iron That Fell From The Sky, To Dwell Within) are working on a whole other level, presenting some of the very best material that has ever emerged from beneath the auspices of this storied band name.
‘Werecat Powers..’ may cut down somewhat on the aggression generally expected of a Skullflower release, but it loses nothing of the project’s traditionally overwhelming scale. The A side’s ‘We Move On Points of Shattered Mirrors’ verily crow-bars open the third eye, with vast-immensity-of-the-universe-opening-up-before-you stomach-trembling synth walls reminiscent of Alice C’s ashram recordings echoing off ancient stone tomb walls; a bead curtain made of motherf-kin planets swinging hither and yon, leaving milky way trails of star debris. Benign oceans of horizontal laser arcs spreading across a grid-like sky of angelic, treble overload, as if Bower’s Sunroof! project calmed down and had a nice cup of some ancient Tibetan tea, whilst his amps shrieked on with an impossible immensity of cosmic light. But, the desert winds still howl and shrill their assault upon a much-abused prayer bowl lost somewhere in the mix, bringing shadows of shambling, parchment-gangling sharp toothed mummies much like the one glimpsed in Ahmed Nosseir’s cover illustration. They of course are the ones who are gradually gonna take this cut over, as knobs are twisted right and overtones accumulate; sand swinging in a hurricane, downing choppers as the ghouls feast on dead soldiers in exultant, dictator-crushing slo-mo, their voices all the while singing mightily from dust-choked, formless spectral throats.
And that’s just the bloody A side! The B (comprising ‘Charnel Ground’ and ‘Departure Lounge’) has more of a glass n’ chrome frippertronics kind of feel to it, but is equally blissful. Mirrored airport glide sucked down a wormhole of cult ritual and black static; obscene UAE air terminals collapsing in upon themselves as ancient giants rise.
That abrupt shut-off when each of the album’s three pieces ends, volume dropping to zero without warning, is a killer. Wherever you’ve been whilst the transistors were squalling and the amps pulsing, the crash back down to The Real is unbearable.
There are a lot of people around offering “psychedelia” these days. Eh – some of them are alright. If you can still find a copy of this LP though, plug in the headphones, get loose and enjoy a dose of the real thing.
Sunday, December 30, 2018
2018: BEST NEW RECORDS.
(Part # 1 of 2)
This is going to be the first of two posts counting down my favourite new releases of 2018. #11-20 are below, and a second post running down #1-10 will follow soon. Simple, right?
It should be noted that I have heard so many good records this year, I could easily do a top forty, time and consciousness permitting. But, time and consciousness does not permit, so 20 it is. Psychic apologies to all those hard-working noise-makers left hanging just below the line.
11. Anthroprophh – Omegaville 2xLP
Readers old enough to remember for themselves may wish to join me on the journey, thinking back to days of waking up safe and sound in yr little basement flat, walls painted whatever colour you like and the landlord won’t complain so long as you keep the bathroom and kitchen working and don’t bother him too often. Spend the morning tinkering with effects pedals or doing some drawings, have a smoke or two. Mooch down to the library and put in some obscure stock requests, see if you can get hold of those weird German records your drummer’s always going on about. Do a few shifts in your mate’s shop every week to pay the rent, safe in the knowledge you can pop back down to the Job Centre and start filling in forms if things get hairy.
It was great, wasn’t it? Life there to be lived, available to everybody. Well, not anymore. All that’s gone, never to return. In the UK circa 2018, I scarcely need to remind you, you’re either affluent or you’re desperate. Either way, you’re probably sweaty, red-eyed and exhausted. And if you’re priced out of the lovingly scrubbed refurbished semis and you can’t get a foothold on the perilous, built-to-burn eco-system of the new-builds (money traps set by gangsters, primed to catch uni leavers like so many wasps)… what then?
‘Omegaville’ fills in the blanks, beginning with Lisa Allen’s beautifully detailed gatefold cover art, depicting a ‘near future’ approach to Bristol city centre. Nix the ‘They Live’-style satirical billboards and it all looks distressingly believable too, a notion cemented by the inner sleeve’s montage of photos (provided by the band members), in which boarded up pubs, skeleton tower blocks, barbed wire gateposts and one-man tents pitched on rubbish-strewn waste ground all combine to tell an all-too-real real estate horror story.
Musically, things begin hard and heavy as the electrified corpses of The Groundhogs, Pink Fairies and Third World War jolt upright on their slabs, bulked up Reanimator style for ugly new times. This is thick-skinned, chemically-altered battle-ready street-rock, executed in proto-h/c speed-freak tempo and pumped up with enough 21st century compression & multi-tracking to make veins in even the hardest Head throb with anxiety; particularly when Allen’s consummately frazzled solos hove into view, squeezed onto the tracks like flaming ether from some heat-resistant toothpaste tube.
On ‘Housing Act 1980’, Allen gargles venomously in the guise of a Farage-faced Tory autocrat, passing the gift of property to his offspring whilst invoking scattered references to Fray Bentos pies, guard dogs and “sunlight reflecting off the bonnet of the Austin Austin”, but in terms of linear comprehension that’s about as close as ‘Omegaville’ gets. Elsewhere, every discernable lyric or moment of simple rock pleasure is sabotaged by thuggish, mind-of-a-madman echo or tangled tendrils of out-of-control synth freak-out.
As the first disc progresses, tracks get longer, stranger, more excessive. ‘Why Are You Smiling?’ detourns Soft Machine’s bucolic, hippie-era provocation into a brutal, urban death march – the sound of the last scattered inheritors of an “alternative society” bitterly trudging the outskirts until they come face-to-face with the tarmac. Perhaps the album’s single best track, ‘I’ ebbs and flows like a band on the verge of collapse, Crazy Horse/Dead Meadow-esque psych drawl soon stomped to death by an Earache metal killdozer – the sound of waking up fuzzy-headed one morning to hear iron clanking, glass breaking and tarmac splitting, right outside your bedroom window.
In time-honoured ‘Tago Mago’ style, the second disc goes way out there – two side long pieces that see Allen initially struggling to narrate the tale of one of those one-man tent-dwellers crashing out into street drug-fuelled mystic oblivion on side C, before the machines and the twisty knobs take over entirely on side D, the band huddled between condemned tower-blocks of back-line as a phantom M4 opens out before them, offering extended thumb sanctuary towards….. somewhere?
If I were feeling facetious, I’d say that I hope the Allens got their house move sorted out ok, but regardless – ‘Omegaville’ represents an extraordinary document of UK underground rock facing up to an ugly present, and an uncertain and evil future.
Listen & buy via bandcamp.
12. Comacozer / Blown Out –
In Search of Highs Vol # 1 split LP
“Veering more toward the instrumental stoner rock approach taken by Mike Vest in his Dodge Meteor project, Blown Out’s recordings here put me in mind of what the classic era Monster Magnet line-up might have come up with, had Dave Wyndorf buggered off for a while and left them to their own devices. […] It’s totally sweet – as fiery as anything this band have ever recorded; this is a slightly more ‘accessible’ sound than their customary side-long wig-outs perhaps, but there’s nothing half-assed about the world-eating skree that takes over each time the drums drop out.
Colour me happily surprised upon discovering that [Comacozer’s] seventeen minute ‘BinBeal’ is actually a pretty benign affair, with a gently propulsive Cecil McBee-via-Hawkwind bass groove taking centre stage, ranging hither and yon ‘cross an interplanetary landscape, accompanied only by shards of hard-echoed, clean toned guitar dopplering away into the distance and some low level patches of DikMik style primitive electronics hovering into view now and again. […] a swell example of bombast-free contemporary rockage, and a welcome reminder that not every space-rock track needs to be a one way power blast through the centre of a black hole.”
Listen & buy via Riot Season.
13. Potion – Women of the Wand tape
Whereas many of the genre’s more sinister and cvltish adherents seem content to leave some slumbering drill sergeant behind the kit, occasionally rousing himself to deliver some stern, poorly-executed snare roll before fading again into the darkness, I reckon it is the duty of a doom drummer to work it hard, to remember the shining, jazz-inflected example of Herr Ward and shoulder the weight. Heads must bang involuntarily, however slowly. Riffs must crash ‘gainst cymbals, just so. Otherwise it’s going nowhere.
Potion are certainly going somewhere, that’s for sure. Hell, maybe they’ll even make it to Perth occasionally. I’ll confess, I wasn’t aware that Australia had much of a doom scene, and indeed, checking these guys’ social media would seem to suggest they’re first in line for support slots whenever a touring outfit of that general ilk hits Sydney. On the strength of this brief tape furthermore, I think it’s likely they must be blowing bigger names off the stage on a regular basis. Here’s hoping we’ll be hearing more from them soon.
In the meantime however, the two tracks / twelve minutes showcased here have The Groove in fucking spades. They’ve got The Texture too if we’re keeping score – thick, airless psychedelic sludge, dripping down the furry walls of sleep like ‘Come My Fanatics’-era Electric Wizard; atavistic hell creatures clawing the earth through mud-scooping bass drone whilst echo-addled guitar leads sear their way through some classically nasty triad moves.
Rehearsal room / tape mastered fidelity brings a uniquely muffled, pitch black heavosity to proceedings, like an old carpet thrown over the head of God, feedback shrieking with genuine menace between onslaughts. Drummer just won’t let those toms be, but under the circumstances that’s just fine.
Some of the absolute best doom I’ve heard from any corner of the year this year, in other words. Just EXACTLY what I need from the genre right now, boiled down, greased up and ready to go. A whole album or two of this stuff, unmolested by label/studio tinkering, would make me nigh on unimaginably happy.
Listen & buy via bandcamp.
14. Warp Transmission – The Process Ultra CD & d/l
Raw guitar fuzz bombs across this half hour galactic opus like a burning toy dragster, leaving ashes all over the carpet, whilst the knob-twisting synth gloop goes totally out-of-control within the opening minutes and never returns to earth. Davros-inspired vocals curse and howl malevolently as the rhythm section pushes forward, ever forward, gearing up to a near-thrash level warp speed but never quite crashing over the line, much to the chagrin no doubt of whoever’s playing on the lead guitar overdubs which elbow their way in every now and then for a shrieking burst of twiddle, lurking just a few twists of the frequency knob away from the local high school’s Iron Maiden tribute band.
In the midst of all this carnage, ‘The Insect’ briefly shifts focus to some collapsed, alien electronics, before ‘Crashing Waves’ slows things down for an excursion into the kind of slightly-more-conventional, head-nodding psyche groove-out that the Brian Jonestown Massacre occasionally do so well. Of course it all builds up into yet another hulking monolith of sonic overload, but what did you expect? ‘The Stranded’ is a lovely little “cool down” track too, sounding as if Davros and his evil pedalboard joined forces with his fellow Whovians in Solid Space.
Mainly though, it’s in-the-red, freaked out madness that predominates here, and a thrilling, ridiculous journey into the furthest reaches of uncompromising, home-baked space-rock excelsis it is too. Yes, please sir, more of this kind of thing emerging from the musical underworld of this tired planet in 2019 would be lovely, thanks very much.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
15. Windhand – Eternal Return 2xLP
Well actually, I’ll admit, these concerns, combined with vocalist Dorthia Cottrell’s tendency to stretch out those descending vowel sounds as if she was in The Smashing Pumpkins or some shit, have caused me to prematurely write off this band on the first, second, and maybe even third, occasions on which I’ve given them a listen. Both personal recommendations and the more generalised quantity of ever-growing love they seem to have accumulated in recent years have kept me coming back though, and, after spending a bit more time with their new record this year, I think I’m finally sold.
Admittedly, acoustic-y interlude ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’ stands out as pretty questionable, but hell, even Sabbath’s best album put us through Changes, so anything’s possible. Elsewhere, moreover, this album is ON. The Groove is in full effect, the riffs are mighty and the songs have a lilting, Pre-Raphaelite arena-psych grandeur that really hits the spot, stretching out across some legitimately epic track lengths without losing sight of their compositional unity.
Jack Endino’s production is top notch too – a deeply comforting wall of luscious, dark green fuzz, top end dulled for maximum bonged out satisfaction. I particularly love the imaginative psychedelic touches that ‘Eternal Return’ brings to the band’s sound too; Garrett Morris’s slightly out-of-sync, multi-tracked solos, the hard echoed pick slides exploding all over the exultantly murky outro to opening cut ‘Halcyon’ and the cacophonous entirety of pedalboard-blitzing instrumental cut ‘Light into Darkness’ are all great examples.
Precisely the kind of stately, atmospheric but unapologetically rocking alt-metal that should rightly be blasting out of a million teenage car CD players across the globe right now, ‘Eternal Return’ hits the same oneiric psyche pleasure centres that keep sending me back year after year to early Dead Meadow, Bardo Pond and various things of that general ilk. A very particular sweet spot, and one rarely serviced by commercially successful metal bands, I’ll admit, but I’ll take it where I can, and I’m getting tons of it from Windhand right now.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
16. Holly Golightly – Live in London LP
Seeing this disc amongst the merchandise on offer served to remind me that, despite owning much of her back catalogue in digital form (booo – artist, label-owners & fanbase), I don’t actually have any Holly Golightly on vinyl. Reflecting on just how nice it would feel to drop the needle on some of her sublimely unfussed Jerry Reed-meets-Wanda Jackson stylings whilst enjoying a cuppa on a Sunday afternoon, I decided that a recent, gigs-only live album would be the perfect way to rectify this oversight.
Recorded two and a half years prior to the gig in question (May 2016), the event commemorated here on plastic took place at the same venue, featured the same band (give-or-take a guest harmonica player on a couple of numbers), and indeed much of the same set list, if the grab-bag of old faves presented here are anything to go by. (‘Crow Jane’, ‘Wherever You Were’, ‘Big Boss Man’, ‘Sally Go Round The Roses’ – all present and correct and exactly where you’d want them.) Different banter though, naturally; touch of class.
Though the results couldn’t exactly be expected to match up to the drunken grandeur of 2003’s magnificent Down Gina’s at 3, they nonetheless make for another valuable performance document from a woman who by this point has been sticking to her story since her current lead guitarist was in nappies.
This ugly old world can do as it may, but she and her collaborators implicitly understand that the art n’ craft of playing this kind of slow-burning, low key rock n’ roll properly transcends any kind of hot-stepping retro bullshit, keeping just enough Medway grit in the mix to ensure no one’s going to mistake this for some supper club oldies gig after a few tins of real ale. Past, present, future – the records keep spinning as long as the kettle keeps boiling, and it’s nice to have a new one.
(Pedants may wish to note that there’s an unfortunate fadeout halfway through the final tune – maybe batteries on the mini-disc gave out or something? But hey, you can’t have everything.)
More-or-less self-released, but with a nostalgic shout-out to Sympathy For The Record Industry on the sleeve (long time no see!), this LP is solely available from gigs insofar as I can tell (I even had to take a picture of the cover myself). Holly also has a new studio LP out this year on Damaged Goods, but I’ve got had a chance to play it yet – my wife’s taken custody.
17. Tashi Wada with Yoshi Wada & Friends - Nue LP
Together with a few of Tashi’s friends (synth player & vocalist Julia Holter, percussionist Corey Fogel amongst others), father and son got together in September 2017 to record these ten varied slices of warm, familial drone, full of benevolent dawn chorus analogue synth trails and happy bursts of controlled, harmonious noise, redolent of new days, cold, sunny mornings, parting clouds, happy collaborative friendships and all the rest of it, leaving the stresses, anxieties and confusion of the world outside the studio a long, long way away.
Sometimes sounding a bit like those eerie interludes on Boards of Canada records extended into bright, four/five minute meditations on nature n’ nurture with all the eeriness carefully scrubbed out, and sometimes touching upon passages of space-lab choral harmony so pure and meticulously realised they could quite possibly single- terraform the nearest gas giant single-handed, the results are engrossing and exultant, full of deep, drifting tones that feel both intensely familiar and strikingly new.
This is beatific headphone communion that won’t take up too much of your time, but will leave you in just the right frame of mind as you enjoy an appropriately head-spinning night-cap before hitting the pillow eight hours prior to a another working week. Wondrous, droning peace.
Listen and buy via RVNG International.
18. Guttersnipe – My Mother The Vent LP
(Upset The Rhythm)
Let me say straight off that, in terms of its level of uncompromising achievement, its sheer, mind-blowing totality, this album deserves to be *way* higher on this list than it is. The reason it’s lurking down here in the lower teens is simply than I’m a sensitive soul, and I find it pretty difficult to listen to in anything other than short bursts, to be honest.
A full-blooded realisation of the kind flattening, full spectrum racket Guttersnipe make live, ‘My Mother The Vent’ comes on like some unholy amalgam of Carcass, Teenage Jesus and the Boredoms, stretching finger-in-the-socket death across expanses of five or eight minutes; it’s… too much, man. I can’t take it.
Nonetheless though, one of the keys to Guttersnipe’s singularity I think is their stated declaration that they wish to remain a rock band, despite pushing the concept to it’s further possible extreme. This makes me happy, and makes me like them even more, because I like rock bands. For all the excesses of their sound – each drum hit setting off a disorientating cacophony of overlapping delays, every guitar note filtered through a miniature city of transistors and lunatic EQ adjustments – there is still a feeling here of two human being playing off each other, of the wood and wire and fingers and wrists that can always keep me engaged where button-pushing electronic whiteout just leaves me cold.
Is this what the future sounds like? I don't know. Could be. I picture above-ground solar panels crackling in protest as subterranean tunnels roar with hordes of post-gender telepathic mutants, rinsing the power grid in a last gasp electronic overload. Could be worse, right?
Listen and download via bandcamp, vinyl available from UTR.
19. Mule Team 7” (Episode Sounds)
As the entity once known as “garage rock” continues year on year to drift in the general direction of its own fundament (certain sainted veterans notwithstanding), mixing reheated leftovers with obnoxious, gimmicky clowning, Mule Team – warm, welcoming, no nonsense folks that they are – bring it back to base with music that is correspondingly warm, welcoming and devoid of nonsense. Skimming over the storied musical legacies of Memphis, Detroit and Nashville with a deep understanding that renders any strutting retro posturing immediately obsolete, they cradle their gear with a crafty respect learned from men who actually needed the damn stuff to earn their living, and indeed, they proceed to kick it as of they were earning a dollar for every head that nods.
A mild-mannered rave up built on a prehistoric Chuck B shuffle, ‘Give Up’ throws a wistful power-pop chord or two into its chorus for the sake of variety before the James Burton-esque melodic lead that’s been chasing the vocal through the song steps up to duke it out with the strident rhythm gtr over the break. The oddly named ‘I'm Going To Miss You Mr Illegal Civ’, reappearing after its initial bow on the band’s 2016 tape, ups the grit a bit with raucous, reverbed group hand-claps and some scarifyingly sweet guitar interplay, before ‘Grew Up in a Can’ takes us into full blown punkabilly territory, bolshy, overdriven bass stomping about like an early Fall track (of all things) whilst down-the-phone-line vox snarl against needle-peakin’ trebly guitarwork.
Most importantly of all though, the beat just keeps clipping along, Creedence-style, through all these numbers - a backwoods motorik choogle powering on eternally over the hill to the next roadhouse. Flaming arrows could bring down the ceiling and tear gas canisters take out the windows whilst these guys are playing, but feet would continue tapping as long as their backline stays plugged in.
Listen and buy via Episode Sounds bandcamp, but keep an eye out for the postage if you take the plunge, fellow Westerners.
20. Bo Gritz – Tape EP (Sad Tapes)
“Point is: of all the endless, minute variations of bad-tempered, hopeless noise-rock that exist in the world right now, Bo Gritz - on the basis of this cassette release at least - play one of the few that I actually want to listen to.
Which is to say: the guitar sometimes sounds like a demonically possessed analogue radio that’s come to life and started attacking people, the bass is content to lurk shadily in the background, a hooligan under a tree in a nocturnal park, whilst the drums thud away in exhausted, groovelessly utilitarian fashion, rather like Simon King of Hawkwind reaching his own personal dead-end after X hours of LSD fuelled battery. None of the players display any flash whatsoever. No time-changes, no ‘look-we're-tight’ turn-around bits, no twiddly riffs - it’s just pure ug. Simple, beautiful idiot-rock, laced with a bit of Messthetics bend n’ scrape.
There are vocals in there too I suppose – potentially snarled down the same drain-pipe that used to belong to Jim Shepard or The Heads, more recently liberated from City Yelps – whilst the four track tape recording keeps that nasty treble in check and helps to bake the band’s potentially upsetting, bulbous aggro down into a warm and nourishing aural porridge.”
Listen and buy from Sad Tapes.
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