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.]
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
New/Old LP reviews:
Neil Young – Homegrown
Normally when legendary artists (and/or their record companies) decide to unveil long-lost, never-before-released albums from decades past, caution is strongly advised, but, there are of course exceptions. Hearing John Coltrane or Jimi Hendrix pootling about for instance will pretty much never cease to be rewarding, however much the attempts to scrape more monetary value from their legacies may grate, and, though many (most) may disagree, I’d personally extend the same indulgence to Neil Young’s work up to the end of the 1970s.
Or, such was my justification earlier this year for blind pre-ordering this forty-five year old major label LP with a singularly unappealing illustration of a hippie eating a corncob on the cover, at any rate. In contextualising that decision however, we should make clear from the outset that, for Young’s fans, ‘Homegrown’ is far from just another iffy rehash of some nixed studio sessions or somesuch.
In fact, the legend goes that this completed LP was all ready to go back in 1975 – sequenced, mastered, cover art signed off etc – and was indeed being prepped for great things by Reprise, touted around the industry as Young’s ‘return from the wilderness’ after a lengthy spell of what then seemed like self-sabotaging, contrarian craziness - the natural successor to his multi-million selling, star-making ‘Harvest’ a few years earlier.
In typically perverse Youngian fashion however, Neil took the decision to withdraw ‘Homegrown’ from release just before it hit the pressing plants, not because the material was in any way sub-par, the story goes, but because it was in fact too commercial for his liking, instead instructing the suits to put out ‘Tonight’s The Night’, a set of recordings which had been kicking around for a few years at this point, considered too ragged, edgy and inebriated for a general release.
Actually, the truth is a bit more complicated than that… which is where things start to get interesting. In his definitive Young biog ‘Shakey’, Jimmy McDonough frames the story as follows (p.469):
“After some mixing was completed, [producer] Elliot Mazer headed off for England, where he played a tape of the album for the head of Chrysalis Records, who then told Mo Ostin he was sure they had another five-million seller. But then a funny thing happened. Young changed his mind.
Blame it on that blurry evening at the Chateau Marmont, where Young had played ‘Homegrown’ back to back with ‘Tonight’s the Night’ for a bunch of stoned musicians including Rick Danko. “At which point Rick the Prick said, ‘Go with the raw one,’” said Mazer, who was devastated when Young decided to jettison ‘Homegrown’ in favour of ‘Tonight’s the Night’.
There was another factor involved in the decision. Young had pulled back from the emotional nakedness of ‘Homegrown’. “It was a little too personal… it scared me,” Young told Cameron Crowe a short time later. “I’ve never released any of those. And I probably never will. I think I’d be too embarrassed to put them out. They’re a little too real.”
(I’m unsure whether or not I’ve mentioned it previously on this blog incidentally, but I recommend McDonough’s Neil Young book so highly that I’d advise you to read it even if you have zero interest in the life and work of Neil Young. Quite possibly the best book on music I’ve ever read, it’s such a fucking masterpiece of the biographical form that the incidental picture of the entertainment industry and the lifestyles of musicians in America during the 60s, 70s and 80s it paints along the way is worth the entry price alone.)
Anyway - the rest is history. ‘Tonight’s The Night’ was initially met with consternation and disappointment, but has since been widely hailed as a staggering work of genius. ‘Harvest’, with it’s easy-going country-rock sound and flat, rather muted production, meanwhile continues to divide hardcore fans, but I still think it’s an equally fine piece of work. And now, nearly half a century down the track, you’d better believe I was happy to sign up blind to grab myself a piece of the alleged ‘successor’ LP which skirts both of these great works, as well as sitting in close temporal/emotional proximity to two more of Young’s flat-out masterpieces (‘On The Beach’ and ‘Zuma’).
Indeed, on its first few dozen spins, ‘Homegrown’ seems to hold more value as a priceless historical artefact for Young-o-philes than it does for its surface level musical merit, making the Chrysalis guy’s talk of a “five million seller” seem pretty mystifying. (Possibly he was high? Just a thought.)
Anyway, it’s certainly no instant mindblower, that’s for sure, lacking as it does either the raw force of an ‘Everybody Knows..’ or ‘On The Beach’, or the indelible melodic grace of ‘Harvest’ or ‘After The Goldrush’, but… there’s a lot going on beneath the surface here.
Many of the recordings included on the album feel fragile, disjointed, or out-of-place, which lends a transient, inscrutable quality to the record as a whole. Something about it gets under your skin.
It’s a haunter, in other words - or at least, that’s my first impression. And, like any haunting, only by digging deeper, getting further stuck into the context surrounding it, can we really start to get to the bottom of things. So let’s do that. Strap yourselves in safely readers - I’m afraid this might go on a while.
Though ‘Homegrown’ ultimately has little in common with ‘Harvest’, there is nonetheless some kind of conscious connection between the two records.
Beyond just the homey, rustic artwork from Tom Wilkes (who also did the earlier album) and the single-agriculture-related-word-beginning-with-‘H’ title, ‘Homegrown’s opening cut ‘Separate Ways’ begins – in what surely must be a deliberate gesture – with an almost exact recreation of Harvest opener ‘Out on the Weekend’s forlorn, hang-dog shuffle.
This time however, the vibe is dark and foreboding, rather than merelt disconsolate and bored, as the rhythm section of Tim Mulligan and Levon Helm (no less) beat out a leaden, muddy trudge. Instead of Neil’s brash harmonica, the cripplingly beautiful melody on the intro is picked out on Ben Keith’s inimitable pedal steel, sounding, in McDonough’s words, like “..one of the loneliest sounds ever recorded”.
Despite this sonic nod to our hero’s albatross of a big-hit-album three years earlier, the feel this record is actually communicating couldn’t be more different. As ‘Homegrown’s hypothetical 1975 listeners would quote possibly have realised before even dropping the needle, had they taken the time to grok the song titles and noted album’s on-the-nose back cover dedication (“For Carrie”), we know we’re going to be hitting some choppy waters here.
The true connection between ‘Harvest’ and ‘Homegrown’ in fact is not one of continuation, but of opposition. Between them, they mark out the beginning and end of the relationship which bookended the most creatively vital period of Young’s life, essentially representing a kind of yin and yang of their creator’s treacherous emotional demonology.
Taken as a whole, I tend to think that Neil Young’s ‘70s output can be best understood as a kind of ‘innocence to experience’ tale, framed not only around the darkening, increasingly chemical hue of America’s ‘me decade’, wherein the ideals of the hippie era died a lingering, drawn-out death, but also deeply intertwined with the turbulence in Young’s own life, and in particular the changes wrought upon his personality by his tempestuous relationship with the actress Carrie Snodgrass, the bitter fallout from which eventually allowed his song-writing to attain the wider, more nuanced vision evident in his best work during the second half of the decade.
Written around the time that the two first met, the songs on ‘Harvest’ – bright and disarmingly melodic yet crippled by self-doubt, naïvely searching for love and acceptance – defines the ‘innocence’ part of our story almost too well. Therein, Neil “fell in love with the actress”; she was “playing a part that [he] could understand”. A few years of more-or-less hell later, ‘Homegrown’ hits the same relationship on the exit ramp, pieced together when things were at their very rawest, following the couple’s mutually devastating separation.
Shortly after completing these recordings, Young would hook up with the rejuvenated Crazy Horse in Malibu, and, in between getting blasted to their heart’s content on all the indulgences mid-70s Malibu had to offer, they recorded what came to be seen as the ‘official’ break-up album, the all-time catharsis-through-rock classic that is ‘Zuma’. Time time after that, he’d rake the ghost of his failed relationship over the coals yet again, finally regaining the steely-eyed, nihilistic persona (last glimpsed on ‘On The Beach’ in ‘73) which characterises the ‘experience’ part of our story, as he laid down the exceptional set of the acoustic demos belatedly released under the name Hitchhiker (those ‘H’s again) in 2017; an album which finds him sounding decades older, and centuries wiser, than the kid who recorded ‘Harvest’ just a few short years earlier.
Back to ‘Homegrown’ though, what we essentially have here is the previously invisible hinge upon which Thee Story of Neil Young in The 1970s pivots; the exact centre-point of the drama, left on the cutting room floor until now, cos it was just too much, man.
That’s not to say however that ‘Homegrown’ really plays as a ragin’, hang-wringing break-up album. Though some of the lyrics may be rife with uncomfortably personal detail, at the same time it often feels as if these songs were laid down before their writer’s feelings have really been allowed to sink in and coalesce.
As with such deconstructed masterpieces as Big Star’s ‘Third / Sister Lovers’ and Skip Spence’s ‘Oar’, heartbreak stalks around the edges of these songs, pain warping them from within. It’s as if the poor guy hadn’t even realised the extent to which he’d been fucked up by it all yet, but as always, the music knows.
Straight out of the gate on Side # 1, ‘Separate Ways’ and ‘Try’ both at least attempt to give us the straight dope, sounding slurred and emotionally drained, even as their lyrics chase some white horse of reconciliation over the hazy horizon.
The inspired instrumental interplay between Young, Keith, Helm and Mulligan on the former song lends it a touch of that ineffable sublimity that defines the best of Young’s singer/songwriter-orientated output, whilst the latter - framed as a soggy, exhausted country waltz – pushes coherence way out on a limb, but just about keeps it together thanks to some interesting lyrical digressions, and crisp backing vocals from Emmylou Harris.
According to McDonough, some of ‘Try’s lyrics, including its stand-out “..shit Mary, I can’t dance” bit, incorporate phrases coined by Snodgrass’s mother, who passed away at almost the exact same moment her daughter’s relationship with Young imploded. Assuming there’s any truth in that, it’s certainly easy to see why Neil thought it better to keep this stuff out of the public eye for a while.
Equally personal, albeit in a slightly more obtuse fashion is ‘Mexico’, a brief (one minute forty) fragment of piano balladry, full of eerie, unresolved phrases left hanging in the air, recalling ‘Harvest’-era songs like ‘There’s a World’ or ‘Love in Mind’. Part of a seemingly endless series of numbers which find Young attempting to escape his troubles by taking imaginary trips to remote locales or other historical periods, this not-quite-song feels like musical thinking-out-loud, but it’s a testament to the strength of Young’s creativity during this era that even his half-finished ruminations remain eerily spell-binding.
In more concrete terms, ‘Mexico’ is also one of a number of songs on ‘Homegrown’ which touch uneasily on their writer’s recent experience of fatherhood, the spectre of his perceived failure to keep his new family together hanging heavy, as domestic responsibilities impinge upon the freedom he might otherwise have enjoyed as a newly single, itinerant rock star. (“Daddy is a travellin’ man..”, the song concludes uncertainly, as the final, ominous notes drift off into the ether.)
Skipping over ‘Love is a Rose’, a robust ol’ coffee-shop folk belter which can’t help but sound a bit out of place here (SO 1962, man), we arrive at ‘Homegrown’s title track, an incongruously light-hearted freak-rock shuffle which, though it ain’t exactly gonna blow anyone mind, is still far more palatable than the version which appeared on the ‘American Stars N’ Bars’ album a few years later.
On that album, it sounded like a smug hippie campfire sing-along that got way out of hand, but here, shorn of the more familiar version’s obnoxious backing vocals, it scrubs up pretty well, strummed/picked in a kinda interesting manner by Neil on a fuzzed out electric and Ben Keith on lap steel, backed up by a supremely groovy, light touch beat from drummer Karl T. Himmel. Suggesting a slightly more nuanced sentiment than the “heh heh, he’s singing about weed” vibe encouraged by the ‘..Stars and Bars’ recording, the song provides some welcome respite from the heavier themes explored elsewhere on this record… which is much needed, given that things get pretty far-out as we head toward the end of side # 1, to say the least.
Oddly reminiscent of some stoned out ‘skit’ track from a ‘90s hip-hop album, ‘Florida’ finds Young and Keith (who seems to have been acting as the star’s primary right-hand-man / emotional crutch at this point) conjuring eerie droning sounds from what the album credits tell us are “wine glasses and piano strings”, whilst muttering distractedly about a potential visit to the sunshine state (“palm trees n’ shit, y’know..”). Things take a darker turn however when Neil begins recounting what is evidently the memory of a dream, which concludes with his retrieving a baby whose parents have been killed in a freak hang-gliding accident. (Those following the underlying psychodrama may wish to note that the audio cuts out just as he begins describing a woman approaching him, claiming the child as her own.)
All of which effectively serves as an intro to what is possibly ‘Homegrown’s most remarkable moment, the inexplicably named ‘Kansas’, another fragmentary, close-miced solo vignette, accompanied this time by soft-strummed, tentative acoustic.
Distantly echoing the privileged masculine self-loathing of the oft-misunderstood ‘A Man Needs a Maid’, but recasting it in more oneiric, transitory territory, this one finds Neil waking up from a bad dream, next to a girl (but not THE girl?), whose name he is unable to recollect; “guess you’re the one I’m talking to this morning / with your mind so kind and your friendly body lying / in my bungalow of stucco / that the glory and success bought..”.
The cynicism of the lyric here is belied by the almost surreal, beach-at-dawn airiness conjured by Young’s minimal musical setting. It’s as if he’s settled into this identity as a self-pitying, profligate rock star only momentarily before he drifts off again into the breeze over the ocean, ready to take shape again in some other place and time.
The preceding skit, with its talk of lethal hang-gliding accidents, adds a sinister undertow to the song’s insistence (during the closest thing it manages to a chorus) that “we can go gliding, through the air, far from the tears you’ve cried..” – a strange sentiment indeed for the pot-smoking, alpha male millionaire to express toward a sleeping beach-house groupie, and far from a reassuring one, with the sickly-sweet pull of New Age guru-dom (and ‘Revolution Blues’) still lurking just a few miles back on the cultural highway. (I’m also reminded that Dennis Hopper’s character in ‘The Last Movie’ was named Kansas, but am probably just thinking about all this a bit too hard.)
Dialling back the intensity somewhat, Side # 2 opens with ‘We Don’t Smoke It No More’, five minutes of heavy-lidded, last-gasp-before-unconscious 12 bar jamming which could have been pulled straight from the infamously debauched ‘Tonight’s The Night’ sessions. Sounding largely improvised, the lyrics could potentially be poking barbed fun at ‘70s rock stars’ favourite game of publically declaring themselves free of all those BAD drugs, whilst quietly sneaking to the bathroom to hoover up this week’s designated GOOD drugs, which prevent them from crumpling to the floor like weeping, incontinent man-children (a frequent pass-time of Young’s erstwhile cohorts in CS&N, incidentally).
There’s ragged magic here for the faithful, but more casual listeners might feel more inclined to prescribe a mug of cocoa and good night’s sleep to the players before they deign to hit ‘record’ again… a sentiment which could apply to this album as a whole in fact, excepting perhaps the following ‘White Line’, which sounds positively sprightly in comparison.
Augmented by some tasteful acoustic lead licks from Levon’s arch-nemesis Robbie Robertson, this recording – taped in London of all places, on one of the days surrounding CSN&Y’s disastrous 1974 Wembley Stadium concert – hits a real sweet spot that all Neil freaks should be able to appreciate, drawing a shaky (natch) throughline between the disarming melodicism of his early ‘70s work and the more weathered, emotionally nuanced balladry of the ‘Hitchhiker’/‘Rust Never Sleeps’ era.
After that though, it’s back to the gnarled, bonged out grunge with ‘Vacancy’, a sinister nightmare of frazzled, end-of-relationship paranoia (“I look in your eyes, and I don’t know who’s there”) which sounds like CCR suddenly losing the will to live mid-recording session, the double meaning if its title summoning visions of anonymous motel break-downs, even as it prefigures the harder, riff-based rock sound of ‘Zuma’.
Clearly giving voice to the side of Young’s personality which saw fit to knock it on the head with Carrie in no uncertain terms, ‘Vacancy’ is a murky, dispiriting rock song in spite of some great lead guitar work in the second half, revealing a disturbing edge when viewed through the prism of this album’s ongoing emotional narrative – all the more-so once it segues into the beguiling, gossamer psychedelia of ‘Little Wing’.
This is another strange, fragmentary song which, echoing the ghosts of ‘After The Goldrush’s ‘Birds’, invites us to envision some kind of spectral, hippie goddess, who “comes to town when the children sing / leaves them feathers when they fall”.
A thing of extraordinary beauty, it’s an example of the way Young’s compositions, at their best, can completely disarm the listener’s critical faculties, allowing words which we might write off as cliché in the hands of other writers to fall like pollen over the shell of his hesitant chording, creating a song which sounds as if it could have existed for a thousand years, lost in the aether, until this sleepy, Kermit-voiced stoner tuned into just the right frequency and dragged it back down to terra firma.
Much the same can be said for ‘Star of Bethlehem’, an unsettlingly ambiguous ol’ time country tune which was subsequently revisited on ‘American Stars N’ Bars’. Lent greater significance here as it closes out one of its writer’s most personal LPs, the song’s declaration that, “your friends and your lovers won’t protect you / they’re all just passing through you in the end” chills the blood, whilst its gnomic conclusion forces us to consider the possibility that some coded message is being conveyed solely to the ears of particular listener here, as the casually irreligious Young brings matters to a close by musing that, “maybe the Star of Bethlehem wasn’t a star at all?”
So thin, troubled and wracked by unprocessed emotion are the recordings on ‘Homegrown’ that to try to conclude by placing it somewhere within the context of Young’s more familiar ‘70s catalogue, let alone offering an opinion as to whether you should or should not buy it, seems almost brutishly insensitive.
Cobbled together from what feels like a state of mind at the very edge of continued functionality, lost somewhere in the slipstream between waking and dream, many of these tracks feel more like automatic writing than conscious attempts at commercial songwriting, marking out a space in which stanzas fade away unresolved and voices sink into whispers, even as each scrape of finger against string or shuffle on the studio chair is painstakingly reproduced in cutting edge stereo.
For Young’s fans, this is a vital, fascinating and - yes - haunting glimpse into the mind of one of the 20th century’s greatest musical talents, captured at the exact moment his life hit a cataclysmic crossroads. For anyone else though, caution is advised – it’s all too easy to see why he thought better of putting this stuff in the public domain for over four decades. God knows, it might take us four more to really get the drop on it.
Monday, September 07, 2020
Plus, as the name and cover illustration subtly imply, we ain’t exactly looking at some “fun on the beach” type comp here, leading - I hope - to a mix which should be broadly suitable for all seasons. Sitting in a room, listening to some music – that’s what engagement with organised sound is all about here in 2020, be it thirty degrees or zero on the thermometer.
Compiled back in late July/early August, just before the killer heatwave intervened, this is once again dedicated to the memory of Mr. Morricone, and otherwise goes out to all the voluntary shut-ins out there, keeping it real and playing it safe for the duration.
As previously, links to non-major label artists who are still a going concern and could benefit from your support (which in this case is most of them) are provided within the track-list below.
00:00 Allen Toussaint - Victims of the Darkness
03:24 Jeff Parker - Gnarciss
05:38 Obnox - Young Neezy
08:28 Cornershop - No Rock: Save in Roll
12:06 Edikanfo - Nka Bom
18:19 Sun Ra - Where Pathways Meet
24:44 Yussef Dayes/Alfa Mist/Mansur Brown/Rocco Palladino - Love is the Message
35:03 Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Driveby
39:45 Kawaguchi Masami New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene - Shadow of the Earth
46:05 Ennio Morricone - Per Qualche Dollaro In Più
48:55 Angel Bat Dawid - Transition East
52:16 BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah - Sour Soul
55:00 Kamaal Williams feat. Lauren Faith - Hold On
58:15 King Crimson - Starless
1:10:33 Bruce Langhorne - Harry and Hannah
1:13:27 Mundo Earwood - Pyramid of Cans
Tuesday, September 01, 2020
I’m back at the wheel now however, with a pile of new posts approaching varying degrees of completion, so please do try to stay tuned.
Prior to that however, I’ve got a few more quick recs to throw in prior to this coming Friday’s bandcamp revenue-free day, all pulled this time from the murky depths of the U.K. underground.
You all know the drill by now I’m sure, so I’ll resist the urge to engage in further hand-wringing re: DIY music’s current life support condition (rock n’ roll can never die, but by damn it’s getting pretty close), and just get on with it.
The defiantly old school photocopied / tinted cover gracing this new EP from Paul Allen’s Anthroprophh project looks as if it could easily have belonged to a 7” put out by Rocket Recordings and/or The Heads when they were first revving up back in the late ‘90s - so it’s entirely fitting therefore that the music within pretty much sounds like one too.
The three songs herein find Allen’s strained, rather desperate voice holding forth against the blights of age, impoverished touring and, on ‘Six Six Sigma’, “a truly awful corporate training company”, apparently. Despite the somewhat, uh, mature nature of this subject matter though, the churning, discontented mid-fi murk of these recordings could have seeped up from a darkened Bristolian basement at any point over the past thirty summers, and is all the better for it, proffering an anxious and assaultive brand of acid-damaged space-punk grue which continues to feel exhilaratingly beyond the pale of mainstream acceptability, irrespective of the calendar year.
Allen’s defiantly Out There guitar-work is of course a consistent highlight, abetting technically accomplished Groundhogs-esque shred with some truly unhinged pedal-board demolition work, spurting malfunctioning dot matrix laser goo all over ‘Six Six Sigma’, and doing a pretty good impression of a garden gate being abused by a variety of power tools on… well, all three tracks really, now that I come to think of it.
To be honest, I think Anthroprophh’s music works best in small doses (2018’s epic ‘Omegaville’, great tho it was, proved pretty punishing when trying to get through it in a single sitting), so an EP is just right, and this is some of my favourite stuff from the band to date. Blinding.
One aspect of this release which certainly does not carry over from the ‘90s of course is the eye-watering £10 price-point, and whilst I recognise that this is more a reflection of the punishing manufacturing/postage costs which have made the 7” format pretty much moribund in recent years than it is a record label cash-grab, I’ll still probably need to console myself with the download in this instance, meanwhile recalling the time back in Ye Olden Days when I bought a Heads single for a quid from their merch table because one of the band members had just spilled beer all over it. It’s still a bit sticky, all these years later... but then so’s the music, so it’s all good.
Early 20th century popular novelist Dennis Wheatley was an extraordinarily tedious, arch-conservative blowhard who should by rights have been long forgotten by this point in time. And yet, somehow, his series of black magic thrillers, filtered through Hammer’s barn-storming 1968 film adaptation of ‘The Devil Rides Out’, continue to resonate with (some of) us as the epitome of a very particular aesthetic – that perennially dusty, almost pathetically English, ‘skulls and candles’ second hand bookshop take on dabbling with the Forces of Darkness which never ceases to appeal.
All of this is well understood by Tom Mcdowell, aka Dream Division, who has dusted off his favourite keyboards and recorded a painstakingly composed scene-by-scene soundtrack to Wheatley’s aforementioned novel – an undertaking which, like its literary inspiration, proves a hell of a lot more enjoyable than it really has any right to be.
Side-stepping to by now well-worn palette of woozy retro synth sounds popularised by the Ghost Box / Boards of Canada axis, Dream Division’s work here has more of an authentically un-cool, teenage bedroom circa 1979 kind of feel to it which fits the subject matter pretty well, variously putting me in mind of Ivor Slaney’s early doors electronic horror soundtracks, The Alan Parsons Project’s ‘Tales of Mystery & Imagination’ album, the DeWolfe library’s Astral Sounds / Kaleidoscope LP, Mike Armstrong’s theme from 2009’s ‘House of the Devil’ and (inevitably) John Carpenter’s score for ‘The Fog’.
Focusing as much upon the dynamics of composition and performance as on the accumulation of spooky instrumental textures (though there are plenty of those here too), these recordings ooze precisely the right kind of atmosphere, and Mcdowell’s tritone heavy tunes are pretty bangin’. Halloween’s creeping up quicker than you think, so be prepared and stock up in advance – just for god’s sake, don’t step outside the circle.
Initially the brain-child of Luminous Bodies bassist Tracy Bellaries (whose CV also includes stints in Part Chimp and, way back in the mists of time, Ikara Colt), the self-titled debut inexplicably named Mummise Guns sees her working with a misshapen super-group of UK psyche-noise talent (including personnel from Pigs x 7, Casual Nun, Ghold and Terminal Cheesecake), fleshing out basic riffs and song ideas into half a dozen shamelessly maximalist Motörhead-via-Melvins bad trip stompers, leavened with a touch of Grey Hairs’ quintessential chug/swing and cooked up in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style by Pigs’ Sam Grant.
With three guitar raging, creeping and blaring through the mix around the central driveshaft of Bellaries’ bass and Cleaver’s drums, together with Ghold’s Alex Wilson going completely off his nut on tonsil-gargling/dying vampire vocals and more effects than you can shake a stick at on everything, it sounds as if all concerned are having an veritable whale of a time here, somehow emerging with a sound both ridiculously excessive and totally solid. The most riotous, undemandingly fun set of UK underground rock gear I’ve heard in an age, this comes hugely recommended.
Unfortunately, the Riot Season label’s ‘no downloads’ policy means this music is effectively unavailable to purchase at the time of writing, which is somewhat irksome, but you can at least stream it to your heart’s content and hope the numbers might push ‘em in the direction of a change of heart and/or a repress. (I’ve got eight quid and my finger on Paypal if you’ll send me the files Mr Riot Season – c’mon, let’s talk. : ) )
Three Gates Dub, Taras Bulba’s reconstruction of tracks from their first LP ‘One’ into The Orb-visit-Black Ark dub epics, has proved to be one of my most played releases of the year oddly enough, but ‘Soul Weaver’, Fred Laird’s latest venture under his new recording name, proves a different kettle of fish entirely.
Effectively a solo album (drummer Jon Blacow’s contribution merely consists of a few unused backing tracks “cannibalised” for use in the new songs), ‘Soul Weaver’ sees Laird returning somewhat to the wistful, expansive Northern English psychedelia which informed Earthling Society’s exceptional ‘England Have My Bones’ LP a few years back, in feel, if not exactly in sound.
More than usually concerned with capturing the atmos of Laird’s coastal North-West home, ‘Soul Weaver’ finds him dialling back considerably on Earthling Soc’s raw fuzz, instead constructing dense layers of ultra-reverbed guitar and noise textures, laid atop ramshackle homemade rhythm tracks, faux-exotic string ragas and semi-buried, sand and mist choked melodies which seems to pull toward a kind of desolate, Romantic grandeur not a million miles away from Flying Saucer Attack’s noise-folk reveries, or even yr long coat-wearing Van Der Graaf/mid-70s Floyd type stuff.
An ambitious and heartfelt album to say the least, this one’s going to to need a good few listens before I can really get my bearings on it, but one thing’s for sure – Laird has a gift for tapping into the beauty of this strange island’s psychedelic heritage that few other currently active musicians can match, and this record seems to take him deeper into the heart of things than he’s ever ventured before, so…. what can we do but take a deep breath of sea air and follow at a safe distance?
Monday, July 06, 2020
Of course we knew this day would come, but still.
So, let’s get straight to the point here – Morricone IS film music, so far as I’m concerned. Even if he didn’t contribute to it all directly, a vast swathe of the cinema I love would sound very different without his influence.
Years before I actually saw any of the Leone films, hearing Morricone’s themes from them pop up on the radio (which they sometimes did in those days) was an event. My Dad (who, like many dads, had a yen for all things cowboy-related) would turn up the volume, and for a few minutes we’d soak it in. The drama, the atmosphere, the wild sounds were just completely intoxicating. They didn’t need any context – as always, Morricone’s music creates its own context. That was almost certainly the first time I stopped to think about music in films, about a kind of musical vocabulary which extended beyond lyrics and pop songs, and about the different ways in which sounds and images can combine to create emotion and excitement. Thirty years later, I’m still thinking about those things.
The medium by which I enjoy the Leone scores has moved over the years from radio, to parental vinyl, to CD, and back to my own vinyl, and during my adult life I’ve of course hovered up all the other Morricone I can find within my price range (which of course still only represents the tiniest fraction of the monolithic range of his total achievement).
From what little I know of Morricone’s beliefs and personality, I think it’s probably safe to say that he would wish to be remembered to the world for his work rather than his biography, so instead of rabbiting on further, I’ll share a swiftly cobbled together mix of fifteen (which could easily be thirty, or one hundred) personal favourite smash hits from his vast catalogue, assembled in no particular order. I’ll keep commentary to a minimum, because otherwise my responses to most of these tracks would just consist of variations on a theme of holy fucking shit.
Though the magic which Nicolai, Dell’Orso, Alessandroni and so many others brought to his recordings cannot be overlooked, Morricone remains a giant – one of the greatest composers and musicians of the 20th century, no questions asked.
For ease of ad-free listening, I’ve compiled these fifteen cuts into a mix on Mixcloud (embed below), but will also go through them one-by-one via Youtube links for those who wish to pick and choose.
1. ‘Titoli’ from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964)
Here’s where it all began.
2. ‘Il Grande Silenzio (Restless)’ from ‘Il Grande Silenzio’ (1968)
3. “Valmont’s Go-Go Pad” from ‘Danger! Diabolik’ (1968)
4. ‘Svolta Definitiva’ from ‘Violent City’ (1970)
5. ‘La Lucertola’ from ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ (1971)
6. ‘Guerra E Pace, Pollo E Brace’ from ‘Grazie Zia’ / ‘Come Play With Me’ (1968)
7. ‘Giorno Di Notte’ from ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ (1971)
8. ‘Magic and Ecstasy’ from ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’ (1977)
9. Main theme from ‘The Thing’ (1982)
10. ‘Canzone Lontana’ from ‘Il Serpente’ (1973)
11. ‘Fraseggio Senza Struttura’ from ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970)
12. ‘Ballabile No. 2’ from ‘La Cosa Buffa’ (1972)
13. ‘Titoli’ from ‘A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof’ (1968)
14. ‘Astratto 3’ from ‘Veruschka’ (1971)
15. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968)
This theme makes me involuntarily break down in tears each time I hear it. Really, every time, like clockwork. Which has proved quite embarrassing whenever I’ve watched the film in company.
My reaction has nothing to do with any personal/biographical connections, or anything in the film itself (incredible though it is). The sound of the music is just completely overwhelming.
It is simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded, and any classical buffs who want to fight about that are welcome to. Everything that is worth feeling within the human experience, I can hear in this.
R.I.P. Il Maestro.
Thursday, July 02, 2020
Is it just me, or is there something GOOD actually happening at the moment? Purely in terms of recorded music, I mean. In spite of the fact that live performance and collective playing is literally DEAD for the time being, the list of fantastic records I’ve discovered in the past six months is just ridiculous.
Has it simply been because I’m now sitting on my ass at home all day long, following links, clicking play and/or dropping the needle and keeping the speakers ticking over 9 to 5? Or, are we ACTUALLY hitting some variation on that irreducible splurge of accelerated creativity which seems to hit like clockwork about once per decade..?
I don’t know. You tell me.
All I can say for sure is, whereas in past few years I would have had difficulty in scraping together a top ten of new records I’ve really loved come the end of June, here we are in 2020, and I could probably give you a top thirty right off the bat.
I should of course temper this enthusiasm by flagging up the heinous prospect that, a few months down the line (maybe mid/late 2021 or thereabouts), we’re inevitably going to hit a dead zone, reflecting a still-ominously-lengthening window in which the majority of bands and musical ensembles have effectively CEASED TO EXIST, at least in terms of their capacity for actual in-the-same-room playing/recording (which I would still contend is generally the best kind).
I mean… wow. Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. I realise we’re lucky(?) enough to live in an era when solo electronic/producer types and songwriters can sit in their bedrooms and kick it out indefinitely, but… has there EVER been a period, since the dawn of recorded popular music in the early 20th century, when the collective creation of music in the western world has actually STOPPED - dead in its tracks?
It occurs to me that there are already plenty of folks over in Iran, Afghanistan, Mali, Cambodia and elsewhere who can tell us exactly how that feels. So hey, let’s look on the bright side - at least a pandemic-related music shutdown seems unlikely to lead to anyone getting their tapes forcibly wiped or their instruments el-kabonged. Or, more pertinently, to anyone being forced to live under imminent threat of violence, imprisonment and systematic murder as a result of their art (or, not anymore so than they were previously, at any rate – peace & love to the vast majority out there currently living under some form of tyranny or idiocracy).
So, let’s just reflect on that for a bit in six months or whenever, when our favourite record labels start sending out “sorry folks, the cupboard is bare” type emails.
But anyway – enough rambling. Tomorrow (FRIDAY) is another Bandcamp revenue-free day, so I’ll be buying these. I believe they’re all pretty mighty. Let’s get stuck in.
A few weeks back, when my wife’s social media feeds [I don’t have any] seemed to be overflowing with indie-rock / punk listeners suddenly scrabbling around trying to acquire an intense and meaningful interest in contemporary black music, I couldn’t help but think, “what the world needs right now is some OBNOX” - and verily, right on cue, the man has come through, with a sprawling double LP that might well be the best thing Lamont Thomas has put out under the this name to date.
As ever, it’s difficult to really put into words the unique amalgam that comprises Obnox’s sound, but nonetheless, let’s take a deep breath and try again. Mixing up lo-fi cut-up noise, rust-belt garage-punk, mutant p-funk derivations, ghostly regional/outsider soul and aggro-laden, street level hip-hop, ‘Savage Raygun’ makes for an exhilarating tour through the treacherous back alleys of American music, all mixed down with a chopped n’ screwed, basement tape-splicin’ aesthetic that makes the album’s presence on shiny, newly pressed vinyl feel kind of incongruous.
That said though, this is still perhaps a slightly more – cough –‘accessible’ take on the Obnox ideal than we’ve been presented with before, dialling back on the hyper-aggressive saturation of earlier releases, even as Thomas remains an elusive presence within his own music, his vocals often remaining distant and translucent as he slyly works earworms and familiar phrases from semi-well known songs in his material, leaving us trying to source them in the fog of our own memories like some form of archaic, pre-industrial sampling. The exception of course is on the full-on hip-hop cuts, where he’s upfront and in our grill, spitting as angry and unhinged as our stupid white asses could wish for, milling down decades of uncouth working class discontent for some implacably affirmative, ugly shit flow goodness.
Song titles like ‘Hawkwindian Summer’ meanwhile gain my eternal respect [I will steal that at some point, for something], and all of the deep, strange threads Thomas is exploring and tearing here seem to come together, just before the end of the record, on the supremely titled ‘Young Neezy’, looping an ancient tape of Neil’s ‘Southern Man’ riff and gleefully firing it straight off into the resentful depths of twisted r’n’b oblivion. It’s pretty inspired. A few years on from Obnox coining the phrase ‘America in a Blender’ on his mutant, malfunctioning non-“free jazz” LP, he’s still busy making supremely bitter-sweet lemonade from that terrifying concept.
Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove ft. David Murray.
Kind of a perfect palette-cleanser after the preceding, percussionist/vocalist and Chicago spitirual jazz OG Kahil El’Zabar (whose CV astonishingly includes work with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt and Rahsaan Roland Kirk) here teams up with his long-standing foil, tenor saxophonist David Murray, and proceeds to engage with the mindset of jazz’s 21st century new wave (represented here by bassist Emma Dayhuff and piano/keys player Justin Dillard) in what strikes me as the best possible manner.
Stretching out across the full eighty minutes allowed by two LPs, ‘Spirit Groove’s self-titled debut is a work of long-form, meditative bliss which, though rooted in jazz, often ends up sounding like some form of deconstructed psychedelic soul, with El’Zabor’s expressive, visceral and unbelievably sweet voice taking centre stage, riffing off a central phrase or ascending into pure rhythmic glossolalia as he, Dayhuff and Dillard lay down a suite of eminently relaxed, minimalist groves which, in their furtherest-reaching moments, almost touch upon the fourth world / melodic drone perfection of Joshua Abram’s Natural Information Society across which Murray soars Sanders-like and ego-free, even as El’Zabor’s vocals keep pulling the work back to a more earthy realm of physical exuberance, bodily movement and, I dunno… fun?
Early days listening to this one (as I say, I’m planning to lay down the not inconsiderable amount of scratch required for the vinyl tomorrow, all being well), but it is a supremely enjoyable listen which initially seems to bear all the hallmarks of a real timeless, endlessly comforting record. Highest possible rec at this point, needless to say.
Kawaguchi Masami New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene.
Yet another project for Headroom / Mountain Movers maximalist guitar wizardess Battalene, and as big fan of both her work and of the old school Japanese psychedelic rock from which she clearly takes so much inspiration, you’d better believe I’m ALL OVER this collaboration with Miminokoto / LSD March veteran Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate.
Time is short here, but let’s simply say that for those who share my frequently reiterated love for this-sort-of-thing, this is pretty damn spectacular stuff, raking the ghosts of High Rise and White Heaven over the coals with aplomb, even as it offers a few oddball diversions from the expected no-holds-barred guitar blitz along the way -the rinky-dink organ and Battalene’s verbed out, somewhat Stereolab-ish vocals which hold sway on the space-garage-y ‘Two Hearts’ being a case in point.
Clearly unafraid of a touch of such psych-cheese effects, Kawaguchi’s boys slather identikit sitar twang and chimes all over the epic ‘Sunday Afternoon’, but can do nothing to spoil its epically atmospheric SF ballroom-meets-Tokyo sunset immensitude. Magnificent stuff. With Kawaguchi’s songwriting easily hitting the heights previously scaled in his work with Miminokoto, whilst Battalene’s contributions hit the drifty, Bardo-ish bliss of her Headroom work from a decidedly different angle, this is full strength beautific psychedelic rock, cooked up just the way it should be, exactly as you’d expect from this hallowed intercontinental meeting of minds.
When my wife and I heard a track from Edikanfo’s ‘The Pace Setters’ on the radio the other week, we initially thought it sounded like music from a ‘70s cop show. It must be from the bit where they go around the streets, ding detective work and showing someone’s picture to people, Satori suggested. Yeah, I said, but I think it must be a show set in some tropical place – like, they’re driving along the beach front in Miami or Hawaii or somewhere, but can’t enjoy the sunshine cos there’s too much on their mind.
Then the vocals finally came in, and…. whoa! Completely off-base! This is actually a West African band. Wow.
Turns out, Edikanfo actually hail from Ghana, where they recorded this set of absolute stone-cold afro-funk bangers at the behest of none other than Brian Eno, who released it on his E.G. label back in 1981. Some elements of the recording have a touch of that indefinable “pro recording in the ‘80s” feel (kinda clean and dry? Gated drums? I dunno..), which is not necessarily to their best advantage, so maybe that’s where I was going with my misplaced Miami Vice type imaginings, but IT MATTERS NOT. The playing on this thing is so red hot, it rips through all that careful-careful dolbified mixing like a knife thru butter.
Heavy on the blasting horns, lurching fretless bass and octo-armed, polyrhythmic drumming, this is just one of the tightest, most consistently energised and imaginative African funk sets I’ve heard in living memory, with, as noted, a kind of cinematic scope to the arrangements which just slays.
Unfortunately however, a violent coup d’etat in Ghana on New Year’s Eve 1981 effectively put a nix on Edikanfo’s local gigging career, and with little in the way of an international touring circuit for ‘world’ artists existing at that point in time, the ensuing years of political instability effectively destroyed their ability to remain as a working unit [see themes alluded to in this post’s introduction].
Four decades down the line though, every right-thinking man, woman and child across the globe loves this kind of stuff, and it appears the group’s surviving members are back together to set the fucking pace once again….. just in time for covid. Shit man, talk about bad luck. Oh well, at least we have this superb (and admirably affordable) reissue on the Glitterbeat label to enjoy.
Last but not least, I’ve been remiss thus far when it comes to finding time to plug Ozo, Mike Vest’s new collaborative outfit with drummer Graham Thompson and saxophonist Karl D’Silva. If their debut ‘Saturn’ earlier this year represented an interesting stylistic development from Vest’s now-standard Blown Out/Reptilian Oblivion MO, their second LP ‘Pluto’ (I guess they skipped Uranus, as well as my personal choice for most underrated planet, Neptune) is where it REALLY comes together, with D’Silva’s sax sounding less relentlessly echoed/multi-tracked, and generally feeling more organically integrated into the boiling lava tides of Vest’s fuzz-bass and guitar layers and Thompson’s rolling rockslide ‘lead drumming’ (particularly on the uncharacteristically subdued expanse of the title track).
Moving at least slightly closer to realising the elusive space-rock / free jazz ideal Ozo are allegedly aiming for, this one is a heavy, heavy trip – a hulking motherlode of King Crimson-accented sonic gloop which feels more ‘high gravity planetary surface trek’ than ‘interstellar joyride’, stumbling over boulders on the way back to the landing module as the low-hanging sky overhead behind to look like this album’s cover. Great work all round on this one guys, it’s a monster.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
I’m painfully fully aware that I’ve been shirking my self-imposed responsibilities in terms of sharing mixes and radio shows here over the past year or so. The crushingly tedious explanation for this involves new computers, out of date software and conflicting file formats etc etc, and, given that finding solutions to such infernal issues is not exactly my idea of fun, I’ve only just got around to it.
How better to celebrate my return to ersatz DJing then than by unleashing a new instalment of Mystery Ships, my long-dormant series of global psychedelia mixes. (The last instalment was over five years ago at this point, unbelievably. Happy to re-up any of ‘em upon request, by the way.)
Working from home has naturally given me plenty of opportunity to huddle over my beloved circa-2006 iTunes and throw these things together, and in keeping with the effects if lockdown stasis, the theme of this one is HARDCORE PSYCH. By which I mean that, whilst earlier volumes in this series might have veered quite a long way off their stated remit, the cuts included here (excluding the fairly sedate intro and outro numbers) are full-steam-ahead, no nonsense psychedelia – overwhelming, full spectrum beautific sound to zone out to and get lost within. Not all rock-based by any means, but suffice to say, if you’re not in the mood for out of control fuzz guitar, smeary distorted organ textures, backward-masked blather, oversaturated tape sound and roiling, tempestuous rhythmic freakouts, well – just keep on walking ‘cross that quarantine seaweed, fella. It’ll still all be here for you on the way back.
A second mix on a somewhat more laidback / meditative tip will hopefully follow shortly.
Sample/stream via the embed below, or alternatively, the traditional mp3 download link follows the track list. Featured bands and artists who are still a going concern and deserve your support have been linked accordingly.
00:00 The Clean - Are You Really On Drugs?
02:35 H. Tical - Distillation
06:20 Kim Sun - The Man Who Must Leave
14:01 Erkin Koray - Mesafeler
17:42 The Bevis Frond - Window Eye
23:13 Masahiko Sato - Take It Easy
28:31 Oblivion Reptilian - Alien Shit
36:24 Don Cherry - Isla (The Sapphic Sleep)
38:45 The Insect Trust - The Skin Game
42:49 Taras Bulba - The Neon Midnight
48:00 Don Cherry & Terry Riley - Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector [Köln, 1975]
56:26 Headroom - New Heaven
1:02:25 Alice Coltrane - Hare Krishna
1:10:36 Shooting Guns - Feelings (Dub)
1:23:04 Brigadune - I’ll Cry Out From My Grave (God I’m Sorry)
1:25:54 Demon Fuzz - Message to Mankind
(If you’d like me to re-up the file, or send it to you directly or whatever, just drop me a line in the comments - it’d be a pleasure.)
Thursday, June 04, 2020
As you might well be aware, Bandcamp are doing another revenue-free Friday this week, so that seems as good a reason as any to round up another pile of great new(ish) sounds which have helped see me through the past month or so of brow-mopping, early summer heatwave home-working.
(Or alternatively, if you don’t mind waiting a bit and fancy helping out some of our fellow terrorist sympathisers, the site are donating their revenue from all sales on 19th June to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund.)
(And no, Bandcamp aren’t paying me (unfortunately), and I have no agenda to promote their site in-and-of-itself, but…. it’s currently the best place to listen to and obtain contemporary music in this cold, sad world, so makes sense to maximise the percentage of our pennies that go in good directions, no?)
Anyway, let’s get on with it.
Recorded via four track to “assorted dead stock cassette tapes” between 2016 and 2018, the material recently compiled on this double LP finds Tucson-based musician N.R. Safi combining traditional Afghan instrumentation with a bewildering array of loops, radio textures, distortion, digital effects, drums, Western/South Asian instruments and more besides, creating a dense and beguiling set of heavy psyche-blasted quasi-enthno semi-forgeries which basically sound like the wildest dream of some Sublime Frequencies junkie, obsessively scanning the scanning the short wave dials in search of mind-blowing pan-global audio to rip and reconstitute for hungry ears.
Beautiful collage artwork, vintage field recordings and track titles like ‘Blood Can’t Clean Blood’ speak of a legit and powerful engagement with the issues of cultural displacement and transformation which inevitably surround this music, which pulses and shrieks across imagined and real airwaves, like an affirmative signal of resistance for Middle Eastern and North American deserts alike. Righteous stuff indeed.
Angel Bat Dawid.
In what now sounds like an evening of nigh-on unimaginable utopian bliss, one Thursday night late last year found my wife and I heading to Peckham, following up a cracking Italian meal by heading round the corner to drop in on what turned out to be the final hour of an evening of improvised music organised by the International Anthem label.
At the time, I was unable to establish the identity of the musicians we saw performing (no names were listed on the event’s advertising), but the group on stage as we entered was led by a woman conjuring careful, atmospheric textures from trumpet, keyboard, electronics and vocals, whilst another woman, initially seated, laid down wildly ecstatic, free-wheeling exclamations on clarinet, before rising to traverse the room in a state of reverie, powering the music forward in breathlessly thrilling fashion.
Backed up by an obligatory super-tight, laidback rhythm section (still unidentified at the time of writing), this performance was little short of mind-blowing - the kind of casually perfect summation of a particular strain of exultantly positive, welcoming culture which makes you feel humbled to have stumbled into its presence. Having spent almost every subsequent evening stuck in the goddamn flat at this point, I think back upon it often.
And now, many months of bandcamp-surfing later, I’m pretty sure I’ve established that we were listening that night to the sounds of Emma-Jean Thackray, whose new EP ‘Rain Dance’ came out in March, and to Angel Bat Dawid, who has an absolutely beautiful 7” out on the aforementioned International Anthem (see embedded links above).
Both of these short releases stand out as essential listening for anyone who’s been digging into this new stream of open-ended, jazz-affiliated greatness half as heavily as I have been in recent months, and, though the concept of Socially Distanced live music – or indeed any group playing whatsoever – still doggedly fails of compute in any way that makes sense to me, I continue to hope that somehow, someday I’ll be able to reconnect with these musicians and/or their contemporaries in a context that in some way rekindles the spirit of that glorious, random hour in Peckham, at some point before all is changed and gone.
And speaking of memories of wild nights out meanwhile…. whilst I like Grey Hairs studio output just a little bit, the truth is that they’ve always really excelled as a live band. It therefore pretty much stands to reason that their new live LP – recorded last Halloween at exemplary Notts DIY venue J.T. Soar, and mixed and engineered brilliantly by in-house recording guy Phil Booth - is by default their best release to date.
If you like your rock served up with some crisp, hard-hitting Albini-isms, the quality of the sound here will likely floor you, it’s just a superb recording, and the band are on top form, the energy and good vibes palpable. I realise I’ve held forth repeatedly here in the past about the virtues of Grey Hairs’ approach to their craft, so what more is there to say? This is an excellent live album by an excellent live rock band, and how many more of those do you anticipate we’ll see coming down the pike over the next year or so?
Stand in the middle of your living room with a can of cheaper lager than you’d usually tolerate, turn off the lights, hang all your coats and stuff on a bunch of mannequins and chairs blocking your view of the hi-fi, and drink it all in.
Well, here’s at least one more skull-fuckingly magnificent live rock album to keep us going, anyway. Recorded by the god-like Ethan Miller (I mean, OF COURSE IT WAS) when former High Rise guitarist Munehiro Narita played a few dates in California in 2017, backed up by the rhythm section with whom he would subsequently form Psychedelic Speed Freaks, recording one of my favourite debut albums of recent years, this is as much of a roughshod, extremist rock apocalypse as fans of this incredible musician might rightfully expect.
Grinding through raw facsimiles of some old High Rise hits (‘Sadame’, ‘Outside Gentiles’, ‘Pop Sicle’) alongside a few marginally more restrained numbers from his subsequent band Green Flames [with whose work I confess I’m unfamiliar – need to get on that], this recording squashes most of the bassist and drummer’s spirited contributions into a blaring tar-pit thud, whilst Munehiro’s reedy vocals are pretty much an after-thought, just marking out time and space, against which the elastic lightning whip monolith of his infernally inspired guitar playing rages and howls centre stage, with the energy of a live audience and appropriately ripped amplification powering him forward toward some of the most jaw-droppingly exciting six string pyrotechnics I have ever heard - not just from him, but from anyone, ever.
I could, of course, continue spewing out this guff indefinitely, but instead let’s put it simply. If you are a fan of loud rock guitar playing who values actual music over posing and gimmickry, you need Munehiro Narita’s recent and reissued recordings in your life. Failure to heed this advice will be liable to label you as kin to the kind of idiots who sold their copies of the Stooges records in 1971 because they were ‘a bit much’.
Sarah Davachi / Ariel Kalma.
As much as I’ve been enjoying Sarah Davachi’s work recently, her pursuit of monotonal melancholia can sometimes tend to get a bit, well, monotonous after a while – which makes this collaboration from French ambient artist Ariel Kalma feel like just the ticket. Herein, Kalma adds some welcome bursts of melodic and textural colour to Davachi’s pure-tone excursions, complimenting her quietly monolithic, largely synth-based work with the sound of tanpura, harmonium, slightly different synths and Vangelis-esque echo sax.
The simple fact that there are two people working together here helps cut against the barren loneliness that has sometimes made Davachi’s solo releases feel slightly unapproachable, making ‘Intemporel’ stand out as one of her sunnier, more optimistic recordings, with the sublime ‘Adieu de Vie’ in particular sinking into a warm steam bath of exactly the kind of ingratiating, escapist psychedelia I’m hard-wired to enjoy, electronics and delays burbling away like a morning chorus of robot birdies above a lightly LSD-brushed alien onsen resort.
Intense, heavily Coltrane-influenced spiritual jazz from this South African quintet, led by drummer Asher Gamedze. Only the opening 18 minute suite from a forthcoming double LP on the UK-based On The Corner label is currently available for listening, but that alone covers a lot of parched ground, mixing abrasive, ecstatic-yet-controlled blowouts from tenor player Buddy Wells (whose name sounds so much like he should be a famous 20th century jazz luminary, I had to invoke google to confirm that he isn’t) with finger-scrabbling group improv passages and deep, sinuous low end melodies, seemingly drawn from the same well of tribal/traditional influence that Louis Moholo-Moholo and his colleagues have been working with across the decades.
This is heady, no nonsense stuff, foregrounding PLAYIN’ over tonal/textural concerns or sonic surprises, and speaking wordlessly of connection to people and to landscape, and to political/metaphysical engagement and such. It should certainly appeal to listeners whose interest in the J word ceased abruptly on 17th July 1967, although some affecting, poetical contemplation from spoken wordist Nono Nkoane suggests other directions in which the full four sides of this as-yet-unheard set might be apt to travel.
Seemingly demonstrating that you can take the boys out of the Pond, but can’t dry ‘em off no matter how hard you try, this collaboration between Bardo Pond guitarists the Gibbons Bros and a drummer named Scott Verrastro finds the trio initially tip-toeing around each other with a few minutes of uncertain, questioning abstraction, before they apparently make eye contact, exchange shrugs and lock into exactly the kind of stoned, heavy-weight-on-butterfly-wings grandeur which has helped cement the brothers’ main band’s ‘90s output as such an indelible and insurmountable cornerstone of modern heavy psyche.
Although the sound is necessary somewhat stripped back here, I’ve not heard these guys tap into this particular sweetest of sweet spots for some years now, making their decision to break out the big spoons and just dig in across the majority of this three track release feel like a slo-mo, fungoid sugar rush of purest satisfation. Taped in Bardo HQ in Philadelphia in 2018, this was released as a tape and name-yr-price download by the Athens, GA based Null Zone label a few months back, and I’m sure that all concerned would appreciate it if you were to name said price at something higher than zero (see intro above).
Eric Arn & Jasmine Pender.
Heavy duty, oxygen-sucking, cosmic / cloud level Popal Vuh-esque drone-work here from Austria-based American guitarist Eric Arn (Primordial Undermind) and British cellist Jasmine Pender (Rotten Bliss). First cut is perfect for witnessing a pale sun rise across a planetery curve as one falls into the orbit of a frozen, featureless gas giant, or so I should imagine, whilst the second explores more tense, noisy and recognisably instrument-y angles on the same kind of weightless inertia. It’s good, in other words.
And last but not least…. South London keyboard luminary Kamaal Williams aka Henry Wu has his follow up to 2018’s ‘The Return’ up for pre-order, the curiously named ‘Wu Hen’, with a few sample tracks suggesting a more expansive palette than the previous record’s straight trio line up (strings, sax, street chat), alongside some more abrasive, Gameboy-ish tones on ‘One More Time’, but still heavily swathed in darkly sinuous, disarmingly blissful yet inexplicably menacing nocturnal pavement atmos, straight from the heart of some mid-gentrification, pre-pandemic cultural sandpaper zone. Being cautious, I’ll wait until I can catch a stream of the whole thing in July (hopefully), but hey – keep a close eye on this cat, if you’re not already.
(About that title by the way – just like a lot of faux-mysterious hardcore bands, Williams’ Black Focus label seems to have a bit of a fetish for Japanese words and characters, so I’m guessing he’s going for ‘hen’ as in ‘strange/perverse’ here, rather than hen as in cluck-cluck.)
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Of course it’s never been my intention to turn this blog into an all-obituaries-all-the-time kind of effort, but my love and admiration for the musical cultures of our fading civilization’s ‘50s-‘70s peak era (plus adjacent decades) remains vast and unquenchable, whilst we are meanwhile faced with the bad luck of living through an epoch in which the remaining denizens of said cultures are, to not put too fine a point on it, dropping like flies.
As some kind of self-appointed memorialiser of such things, it’s really been getting on top of me recently… it’s difficult to find the necessary time to process, let alone get anything suitable down in words.
Sticking strictly to those whose music I am familiar with, or that has affected my life in some small way, there’s Little Richard, Florian Schneider, Phil May, Henry Grimes, Betty Wright, John Prine, Lee Konitz, Henry Grimes…. am I missing anyone here? Almost certainly. Smaller, non-household names and non-band leaders especially, I’m sure. Syphoning news has become increasingly challenging lately, so please hit me up in the comments if there are any other departures I should be aware of.
It’s interesting to note that, of the more elderly folks on the above list, very few have had covid explicitly linked to their deaths, yet the numbers, compared to the quantity of noteworthy musicians we’d normally expect to lose in any given Spring, remain exceptionally high. Makes you wonder, doesn't it…. but this is most assuredly not a good time or place to take one’s wondering off in that direction. It won’t end up anywhere nice. Let’s all just pray daily for our surviving heroes and heroines who are not on the above list. Wishing health, long life and the divine spark of creation to them all.
SO, ANYWAY – Little Richard. That’s a strange one, right? Seems like much of the entertainment media didn’t quite know how to play it. Perhaps in some crazy sort of fashion, we’ve still not quite caught up with him yet.
Seems to me that, for the generation of more rebellious/anti-authoritarian rock fans growing up back in the day, he was little short of a GOD, the real number # 1, not-to-be-fucked-with well-spring for that wild, anarchic rock n’ roll energy, but his perceived importance seems to have waned pretty significantly over the years, to the extent that to those of my age or younger, he’s often not much more than that guy did track 5 and track 7 on that Big Bumper Retro Rock n’ Roll hits CD comp you always had lying around.
Perhaps he’s suffered to a certain extent from “wow, is he still alive, I had no idea” syndrome, a symptom of the long, slow 50 year plus come-down experienced by almost all of the household name ‘50s rock n’ rollers, doomed forever to some gothic, ‘Sunset Boulevard’-esque existence – a long life defined almost entirely by the shadow of some mad shit they laid down without a second thought in their early ‘20s.
For the old timers though, growing up without a supply of raging feedback and animalistic punk/metal nonsense on tap at all times…. well, he was something else entirely. As Simon Reynolds notes, writer Nik Cohn significantly christened his pivotal poetical history of rock n’ roll tome ‘Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom’. I just pulled it off the shelf to check the spelling of the title, and to quote from within (pp. 31-34):
“For instance, the first record I ever bought was by Little Richard and, at one throw, it taught me everything I need to know about pop.
The message went: ‘Tuttie fruiti, all rooti, tuttie fruiti, all rooti, tuttie fruiti, all rooti, awopbopaloobop alopbamboom!’ As a summing up of what rock n’ roll was really about, this was nothing short of masterly.
Very likely those early years were the best that pop has yet been through. Anarchy moved in. For thirty years you couldn’t make it unless you were white, sleek, nicely-spoken and phoney to your toenails – suddenly now you could be black, purple, moronic, delinquent, diseased or almost anything on earth and you could still clean up. Just so long as you carried excitement.”
“Most of his records sold a million each – ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Lucille’, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, ‘Keep a Knockin’’, ‘Baby Face’. They all sounded roughly the same: tuneless, lyric-less, pre-Neanderthal. There was a tenor saxo solo in the middle somewhere and a constant smashed up piano and Little Richard himself screaming his head off. Individually, the records didn’t mean that much. They were small episodes in one unending scream and only made sense when you put them all together.”
Man, that’s a great book. I should read it again.
Jumping off from this idea, I distantly remember Greil Marcus (I think?!) waxing lyrical about Little Richard as the guy who first introduced a sense of surrealism / situationism to rock n’ roll, marking out a space in which meaning and coherence entirely disappeared – form transmuted into pure energy, combined with a kind of musical glossolalia (and, that’s a trick which naturally ain’t gonna hold up too well over 60+ years).
Personally, I’ve always found Little Richard’s music – great tho it it – makes for an odd fit amongst the first generation rock n’ rollers with whom he is invariably lumped in. Really, his stuff feels less like fully-fledged r’n’r, and more like a form of super-hyped up jump blues, foregrounding horns and piano and powerhouse vocals in a manner that makes it feel more like a weird, ultra-aggressive adjunct to the parallel development of what would soon become soul music, than to anything connected with the thinner, ghostlier, whiter sounds emanating from the Sun/rockabilly universe. A kind of blunt-yet-brilliant musical dead end of the kind more usually dug up on static-drenched compilations of totally obscure, indie label 45s – not on the freakin’ radio, or the Sunday Times obits page.
In a way, he’s always struck me as the kind of anti-Chuck Berry. Whereas Chuck gifted us with smart lyrics and story-telling, emphasising at all times the primacy of the electric guitar, L’il R (as no one has ever called him) made a point of smashing the loose remains of verbal narrative against the wall until they died bleeding, then proceeded to do the same to a brutally over-miced piano, doing his best to drown out the holy rhythm section entirely.
In a sense, perhaps Bo Diddley serves as some kind of weird, stylistic peacemaker here. By which I mean, his songs told stories, but they were nonsense stories, full of his own self-aggrandising, made up blather, whilst he simultaneously drew our attention to the drums and percussion as the most important part of the pie, because I mean, of course they are, you idiots. But, I’m getting off the point….
Whereas Chuck could number the Beach Boys, Beatles and Stones amongst his white boy descendants, Little Richard took a flying leap straight to The Sonics – which kind of says it all vis-à-vis his place in the canon, I suppose. Punk lineage, A plus 1.
P.S.: having just google-searched his image (try it), I’m inclined to realise that, throughout his life, this guy managed to look genuinely insane and frightening about 90% of the time someone was pointing a camera at him. I’d like to see you beat that across six decades, entire world of heavy metal.
Friday, May 01, 2020
I’m pretty gutted today to hear (via The Quietus) about the death of Tony Allen, a drummer whose work with Fela Kuti pretty much defined the sound of afro-beat as it developed during the ‘70s, but whose astounding energy and productivity has since seen his career range far and wide beyond even those fairly unsurpassable early achievements.
For no particular reason, I’ve been listening to a ton of Allen’s music during the current lockdown period, and have been really getting a feel for it. I recently acquired his first two albums as band leader, Jealousy (1975) and Progress (1979), bought a copy of Tomorrow Comes The Harvest, his 2018 collaborative 10” EP with Jeff Mills, and downloaded this astounding Africa ’70 live album (featuring a 16 minute drum solo/duel between Allen and the also recently deceased Ginger Baker) from the Flabbergasted Vibes blog.
These have been more or less random acquisitions, but they all stand as undeniably brilliant records, and the relentless rhythmic drive and sense of questing positivity which runs through them has helped make them a nigh on perfect accompaniment for ploughing through mountains of working-from-home; in fact, they’ve really been keeping me going over a few rough days here and there.
As with McCoy Tyner last month, I’m afraid I don’t have much of an insight to offer into Tony Allen’s life history or personality, but the sheer open-mindedness with which he seems to have embraced collaborations with electronic, rock, jazz and quote-unquote ‘world’ musicians over the past few decades speaks for itself really.
Whereas we naturally tend to expect legendary musicians who have reached their sixth or seventh decade to slow down a bit, to fall back on the core styles which made their name, or to enjoy basking in their past glories a bit (especially when they specialise in a discipline as physically demanding as long-form kit drumming), it feels as if Allen has been all over the map since the turn of the century, doing GREAT work in all kinds of cultural contexts (just check out the aforementioned Mills EP, it's killer), to the point where he seemed like a pretty ubiquitous presence, his name popping up week after week on band line-ups, festival bills, label blurbs, record covers – you name it.
All of which naturally makes me regret the fact that I never took the opportunity to see him do his thing live whilst I had the chance; this stands both as a testimony to my own myopic idiocy, and as a reminder (as if one were needed after the past few months) that these kind of opportunities won’t be around forever, and MUST be taken when they arise. Let’s hope it will be a lesson learned, but for now, R.I.P. to an absolute powerhouse of a musician, his influence and cultural import vast beyond measure, but still secondary to the sheer pleasure of just losing yourself in his mighty groove.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Further deep dips into Bandcamp which have been keeping my ears vibrating nicely (and my bank balance reassuringly low) as I sweat over me work PC in these times of home-based toil… a few longer/proper reviews of other things to hopefully to follow soon, as and when I get a minute.
Gerycz / Powers / Rolin.
Pure, third-eye blasting maximalist fields of bliss straight out of the American south, conjured forth via a 12 string acoustic, hammered dulcimer and some (fairly minimal) percussion, with nary an amp nor pedal in sight. Swings open those bead curtains into blinding sunlight just like I like this stuff to. Pretty magnificent. Sitting comfortably alongside such aforementioned-in-the-pages acts as Woven Skull, Sarah Louise, Sally Anne Morgan & Kryssi B., Elkhorn etc, there seems to be a fresh strain of rustic-minded, pure psyche brilliance starting to bubble up from the Trump-bedevilled underground which needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. Children of Pelt rejoice!
Chicago Underground Quartet.
Although I can’t think of anything terribly pertinent to say about it, I’ve been hitting Jeff Parker’s recent album on International Anthem pretty hard recently, and this first-album-in-donkeys-years from the intermittently convened quartet (previously trio) of which he is a member carries the same spirit of warm, non-denominational good times musicking, casually swinging between trad jazz lyricism, questing chaos and… other realms entirely… in a way that just feels right n’ good. The sultry desert dreamscape of ‘Strange Wing’ is hitting the spot particularly nicely today, for the record. (I’d dearly love to pick this one up on vinyl, but the Astral Spirits label don’t seem to have much in the way of European distribution, and I’d prefer not to risk the extravagant vagaries of overseas postage at present, so… mp3s it is.)
Acid Mothers Temple.
So, did you know that, prior to putting out their excellent ‘comeback’ album Reverse of Rebirth in Universe album a couple of years back, AMT’s revised new generation line-up stopped over in Brazil, where they quietly released this absolute peach of an LP, presumably recorded at around the same time? As previously stated, I realise that getting excited about an AMT record when we’ve all already been suckered into buying a thousand of the things over the years is a tough call, but they’re really firing on all cylinders here, hitting all of their strongest suits at one point or another with a minimum of silliness and faff, and the results are pretty jaw-dropping. If, like me, you find yourself ruing the unlikelihood of AMT’s proposed June tour dates going ahead, this should help tide you over until they’re back on the virus-free road once more.
Some anonymous sleazy ‘70s session blokes.
So, this is just a quick Public Service announcement to let you know that Trunk Records have finally gotten around to setting up a Bandcamp page, and that it’s full of all the weird and wonderful bit n’ pieces you’d rightfully expect. Their new Basil Kirchin archival release is alternately sublime and deeply uncomfortable (as you’d likewise rightly expect), but my # 1 pick is DEFINITELY this anonymous, car boot sale-sourced reel of totally monstrous ‘70s porno jamming. I mean, of course it is. Seriously though folks, forget the novelty / cheese factor here, this music is legitimately fucking amazing, and if some kids dropped it today I’d probably hail them as heroes. As it is, they likely made do with a few packs of B&H and enough dosh for a few brandies in the pub round the corner before they shuffled off forever into the beige, tea-stained night. What a time in which to have been alive.
And, at completely the other end of the spectrum – a new EP of sombre, spiritually bereft meditative drone pieces from Sarah Davachi. Need I say more?
To be honest, I only rarely dip my toes in the lukewarm waters of new indie-rock these days, but if you’re still jonesin’ for something in that general vein that can make an impression, I’d highly recommend these oddballs from Rotterdam. Embracing a laissez faire approach to guitar tuning that the early Fall might have appreciated, the best tracks on their new album ‘In This House’ find them pretty much sanding down the Velvets-via-Feelies-via-Breeders lineage of affectless, cooler-than-thou guitar pop to a kind of shiny, casual perfection (never stretching to two notes when one played twice will suffice), over which one of most distinctive, weird-yet-charming vocalists I’ve heard since Life Without Buildings’ Sue Tompkins holds forth in a clipped, naïve, mid-European sort of fashion that remains entirely his own.
Individual taste may vary of course, and the slower cuts test my patience a bit, but generally I’m inclined to believe that this strange bunch are really on to something. Specifically, their songs exhibit a kind of dead-pan musical humour which charms the pants off me, as exemplified by the triumphant guitar non-solo (refusal to solo?) which forms the LOL-worthy highlight of stand-out track From Never To Once.
Chris Forsyth / Peoples Motel Band.
Back to the hairy handed jamming meanwhile, and… do you know this Chris Forsyth guy? His voluminous catalogue seems to have passed me by up to now, and in truth I’ve yet to really reach a decision on the extent to which I’d wish to recommend it, but if you find yourself with a hankering for some unashamedly manly, free form classic rock guitar noodling in a ‘Dead-on-steroids kind of vein (and who doesn’t every now and then?), there is lots, and I mean lots, of it to dig into here, and this recent live album recorded with the band Garcia Peoples feels like a good place to start. In stark contrast to Lewsberg, when this dude says, “I play the guitar”, he ain’t foolin’.
And last but not least – this new album from The Necks is an absolute banger! I know, hold the front page, right? How such a long-standing group can remain so immaculately consistent whilst simultaneously managing to break new ground within the carefully-monitored constraints of their “always different, always the same” methodology frankly defies all reason, and has done for many years. Given that I’ve long since given up on trying to find new ways to put the unique alchemy of what they do into words, let’s simply say that, for my money, ‘Three’ is their best, most instantly striking and thoroughly engrossing recording since the ‘Unfold’ double LP set in 2017, distinguished by a zen-like internal symmetry (three tracks, three musicians) whose refusal to countenance the horrendous prospect of a blank fourth side presumably explains why they’ve opted to skip a vinyl edition this time around.
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