Monday, 8 February 2010

Black Flag - 'The First Four Years' (SST)

The mainstream acceptance of 1980's underground rock music means that Black Flag have now been inducted into the canon, at least enough to make me feel a bit weird trying to write something about The First Four Years. Though, while Rollins does iPod commercials, what is Chavo Pederast doing these days? Dreams, legends and lifestyles were made here but I personally think I only really got Black Flag after reading Rollin's awful/amazing book of tour diaries, Get in the Van. Cause pretty much everything that's been written about Black Flag has been wrong, in the sense that it was not about lifestyle or politics or choice - it was only about the music, man. Now this is pre-Rollins, when Ginn's interest in experimentation was much more focused on structure and aesthetic experimentation than guitar playing innovations, though there's certainly a little of that here (like his solo on 'Wasted'). The debate over "who's the best Black Flag vocalist" has raged in a million shitty punk houses and parties and this CD is what everyone refers to. Why doesn't anyone ever make an argument that, say, Raymond Pettibon reinvented psychedelia in a new post-Watergate America? I'm gonna refrain from choosing my fave vocalist, though the path traveled from Morris to Cadena is an interesting one. We start out with fists pounded against dry wall; the music of curfews, sexual frustration, and directed anger. By the end the anger has widened its vision and we're punching concrete instead. 'Damaged I' is a good portal into the future, even hinting at the horizontal gruntfests of the heavy metal late Flag sound. The best thing I ever heard of all the ballyhoo for Black Flag is someone who said "this was soul music for white kids from the suburbs". You've all heard this, hopefully, so what more do I need to say? This CD is only 26 minutes long which is a bit surprising because for some reason I remembered it being about twice the length. Packing four years into 26 minutes should say something about precision, concision or maybe just incisions.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Jean-Jacques Birgé / Francis Gorgé / Shiroc - 'défense de' (Mio)

Bring on the space juice! This intensely visionary work was recorded in 1975 and it resembles little else in the sound universe. You can hear some hints of similarity, particularly with other French weirdness like Berrocal's early records, and some jammy synth jazz, but this is some of the weirdest shit you'll find this side of Sun Ra. There's a sense of free jazz in how's it played, and some Krautlike echo, but I'm really not doing it justice by comparing it to antecedents. Shiroc is the drummer and his style is wonderfully fluid, with long runs that dance all over the stereo field like a wild buffalo. I write all this in reference to the original album (tracks 1-4) and the bonus tracks that take this CD to the remainder of its 75 minutes. The second disc included here is not under review, because it is a DVD and thus outside of the scope of this blog. Also, I'm copping out on trying to tackle the insane amount of content packed into the DVD - in addition to Birgé's film La Nuit du Phoque (which, if I remember correctly, has oodles of male nudity in it), there are over six hours of audio material comprising every session that Birgé and Gorgé ever played together. So, this is a hell of a bargain and a pretty "essential" component of a record collection that looks NWW-listward for its cornerstones (though, I hate when people say any sound recording is 'essential' since you don't need it to live and breathe). But the album itself is what created the legend around this music, if you can call anything that a microscopic community of music fans cared about "legendary". I'm sure the original vinyl goes for shitloads now so thanks to Mio for making it available again - and while I don't like CDs, this is a nicer way to have it than a MutantSounds .rar file. The breaths here are gorgeous though - sometimes pure sound exploration and sometimes focused on the act of human beings interacting with each other. This is definitely from the school of "get some studio time and take in as many instruments as possible", but back when this was a novel idea and there was really something to say through the process. There are a million sound-generating devices at play but it doesn't sound spoiled. There are two other guys who play here, one of whom was later involved in Urban Sax, and they seem to thicken things without overloading anything. French outsider music, which I often call "prog" because, even if it sounds nothing like Crimson, is definitely progressive -- it has a sense of time that is uniquely its own. I don't understand completely what makes something sound French vs. Italian vs. German vs. British - I wonder how much these constructs are cultural. Would I say the same thing about this if I took a blind taste test? I think I would, at least with material from the great decade of the 1970s; with today's melting pots I don't know that I'd be up to the challenge. Here I guess I'd probably see a connection to art brut, and all that stuff, but maybe that's just my limited knowledge of 20th century art movements creeping into my sense of perception. Anyway, I can't say much else here besides: get this.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Birds of Delay - 'Gateway to Feather' (Alcoholic Narcolepsy)

This is an artifact from the explosion of underground UK noise-drone that peaked around 2006-2007. Birds of Delay are two guys that like feedback, and everything is recorded with the thick soupy drone + feedback layers that characterise their sound, at least at the time. 'Sandcastle Brain' opens it up with 15 minutes of monotony, to the point that the other track, 'Creamed Abandon', sounds lively by comparison. The latter applies bending and twisting tones to create a more psychedelic effect, though since everything (on both tracks) is breaking up through digital distortion, it feels very compressed. Music like this demands space, and there is space here but not much; you can't help but feel claustrophobic, even a bit frightened while listening to this. What this whole scene did is remove the trancelike/hypnotic elements from drone and leave the bad hangovers and nasty backlash. I'm trying to think if there's something distinctly British here, like the taste of a warmed Wetherspoon's pint or scampi fries, or if this might as well be from anywhere. I don't know what actualy would characterise US vs UK vs Korean drone, except that I can say Starving Weirdos sound nothing like this. I guess it's like a Jackson Pollock piece, where you can pick a sound and let your ear wander around on it, except it would be like looking at a Pollock painting in a really poorly lit room. I know that lo-fi is a choice and this aesthetic has its advantages. but you'd have to be deluded to think that a super quality recording wouldn't benefit these blokes. Or maybe you'd just realise how cheap their equipment is, because it sounds like it's all held together with gaffa tape.