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Friday, 29 October 2010

Cerberus Shoal - 'Bastion of Itchy Preeves' (North East Indie)

With excesses in check, this is the Cerberus Shoal record I was waiting for, quite literally for years. The live band that I saw in 2000 or 2001 was a really mystical, strange creation that somehow touched on things antiquated and historic, yet was obviously innovative and forward thinking. And while this was released after Chaiming, they started recording it in 2001 and just took ages to finish it. Bastion of Itchy Preeves is another 70+ minute disc, but this time it's split over ten songs. There's a strong reliance on xylophones or steel drums, making tracks like 'Bogart the Change' resemble a mutant Talking Heads. Flutes and recorders are so integrated into their sound at this point that it's barely noticeable - just part of that whole Cerberus Shoal thing, y'know? And vocally, there's some beautiful, haunting harmonies - the chant of 'Baby Gal' with it's sharply over-enunciated inbreaths is pure Edward Gorey. The songs tend to open up more, and they aren't afraid to build up thick drones and occasionally erupt, but there's less of a need to have thunderous post-rock structures behind everything. And the humour is far more restrained which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your personal take. 'Grandsire' opens things up with a thick rolling blanket of pure tonal bliss, a strong post-Homb step towards melodic convergence. There's sample voices, processed through damaged electronics, but only as icing on the cake - the core of all of these songs is the notes, rhythms and voices generated by very human hands. I think my enjoyment of Itchy Preeves is somehow set by the artwork, a monochromatic modification of a TV schedule -- it conveys something antediluvian, but clearly contemporary - a true hodgepodge of sensory juxtaposition which is probably the best way to describe Cerberus Shoal. But I go into this disc with a certain mentality that's much more austere than the technicolour Chaiming. I mean, there's still elements of Chaiming's goofy, art-rock cocktail here. It's most notable on 'Tekel Upharsin', I think. That track builds up around around a repetitive, circular bassline, with notes slipping around on their intonation in a way that somehow reminds me of uber-primitive synth work. Over this various ethnic stringed instruments pluck out a melody, along with accordion and violin, and then group singing that's like a mentally insane village party, but without any trace of Wicker Man-style tones. It feels a bit like being stuck in a chicken coop at parts. A lot of Itchy Preeves falls into neo-prog territory, though the band is far more focused on textural exploration than displaying chops or composing complex song structures. The closing track, 'A Head No Bigger Than a Man's Cloud', takes on a Cocteau-like atmosphere with it's undecipherable, breathy vocals, and a twee music box dances overtop of the things. It's almost distracting from the gentle tide that lies underneath, making this a lovely finale.

Cerberus Shoal - 'Chaiming the Knoblessone' (North East Indie)

Here we take a step from the realm of post-rock into the outer spheres of whatthefuck. Chaming the Knoblessone is 7 tracks in almost 80 minutes, in two suites of 3 songs with 'A Paranoid Home Companion' as the self-styled intermission. This is five years past Homb and we can hear that the band has clearly been immersed in Beefheart, the Residents, bad sci-fi and probably some primitive musics as well. The instrumentation isn't strikingly different - there's still a hi-fi studio rock basis to everything, though we get a bit more radios, static and electronics than before. Musically it's still largely centered around guitars, drums, and breathy-windy things (in which I include the accordion which drives 'Mrs. Shakespeare Torso'). The guitars are more trebly though; the voices escape the trappings of chanting by getting into weird, contorted/affected sillyness, and there's a huge prog construction to everything (these are long, long songs). Vocally, though, there's just way more of them - I'd guess all band members contribute voices, and there's a heavy emphasis on narration (particularly 'Companion' and 'Story #12 from the Invisible Mountain Archive'). The opening cut 'Apatrides' sets the tone, with Ralph/Residents-style vocal layers over the bending guitars and deconstructed rhythms. The flowing spiritual earth mother vibe almost seems like a joke here, and there's lots of elements of humour. 'Paranoid Home Companion' is certainly the obvious place to look for yuks, though I actually found it easiest to tune out this long conversation with an electronic/robotic voice (though I liked the gameshow-style interlocutor). 'Story #12' talks about assholes and poop, which definitely undercuts the feeling that Cerberus Shoal might take themselves too seriously, but the affect is just so hard to figure out. What are they trying to do? The only real comparison I can make is 'Billy the Mountain' by Zappa and the Mothers, though I don't know why I have to compare it to anything. 'Ouch: Sinti, Roma, Zigeuner; The Names of Gypsy' is based around a call and response 'Ouch!' thing, though it does build up into quite a maelstrom by the end. I guess 'The Names of Gypsy' is the second half, a minor key dirge that, along with 'Sole of Foot of Man', is the most traditional songwriting here (which looks ahead to Big Blood, Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin's next band). 'Scaly Beast vs Toy Piano', the 12 minute closer, has lots of said piano which I really like, and then the same array of manic language insanity that starts to feel commonplace by this point in the disc. The toy sound is great though and by the end there's a real sense of everybody pulling apart from everybody else as it lumbers along that makes it one of the more rewarding moments on Chaiming (if you are able to tune out the voices). This is one example of a CD digipak really being a beautiful object in its own - though of course I would prefer Kinsella and Karl Greenwald's art in a large double LP format. There's a foldout poster with more words and watercolours (if you haven't had enough language after 80 minutes) and it's a lovely vision, even if it's mostly esoteric and unintelligible. The use of a nice recording studio ensures a thick sheen on every minute of these Cerberus Shoal records, which makes it all feel even more strange and artificial. (As if the robot voice isn't enough). It's funny how a predominantly acoustic-based artist (that accentuates their music with lots of small miniature instruments, a la Art Ensemble of Chicago) still manages to feel digital. Scott Colburn had a hand in this (and even played some guitar), so you get that level of professionalism, and no trace of raggedness. Some of the dynamic rushes are quite trance-inducing, even if they are buried behind a rock song (or a talking robot). I'm sure I could spend hours and hours digging into the ideas on here and probably find a well-constructed narrative about the dissolution of humanity, straight outta Phil K Dick. But this is Cerberus Shoal, a band who if I had to describe in one word it would be 'confounding' (sorry, you didn't get 'eclectic', guys and gals).

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cerberus Shoal - 'Homb' (Temporary Residence Limited)

Oh, how do we even begin the Cerberus Shoal story? Like so many others, these guys began as a post-hardcore/emo sort of thing, with their early records drawing comparison to Still Life and bands like that. Now, I'm not really an expert in such matters and when it comes to the Shoal, my entry point is here on Homb, which is 1998. And even still, this sounds remarkably post-rock influenced, and somewhat, well, pedestrian compared to the total melted Americana mindfuck I saw around, hmmmm, let's say '99 or 2000. So I picked up Homb which is basically what was available at the time, and had pretty much the same core members, and found something a lot closer to the Tortoise/Slint sound (which is no shock for 1998). Now, I don't mean to come down too hard on Homb (and I say this as someone who likes Tortoise and Slint) -- the strong rhythmic underpinnings on this disc are what ties it to the post-rock tradition, and it's these strong rhythms that were phased out later, or maybe they just became more fluid. Good times are everywhere on these long jammy tunes. 'Omphalos' is like Slint's 'Washer' overlaid with pitch pipes, drones, and a nice oceanic drift. But it has a hell of a drum sound that anchors it, even when it slows down a bit and tries to open up. It's the opening track, really, 'Harvest', that is the most atmospheric, but I fear it's meant just as an introduction. Reeds and breaths are all over Homb, at times veering into Windham Hill territory (nothing wrong with that either!), and there's a ton of instruments listed in the liner notes, mostly Art Ensemble kinda shit I think, but it's too hard for me to actually read the cursive so I don't really know. The last 2/3 of the album is a 3-part suite called 'Myrrh' which is a pretty huge construction, I guess. The first part, 'waft', is where we hear lots of wooden blocks and whistles and things like that, with more deep breathy new agey wooden flutes and whatnot. Vocals eventually come in, and they're slow, deeply intoned, and nothing like you'd expect from ex-emo kids. The intervals are minor and uneven, and it has a bit of overall wow and flutter that gives it a nice instability. The production, by the way, is really, really good here - clearly the product of Maine's finest recording studios, and call me a spoilsport, but I wish it was a bit more lo-fi! It slowly melts into part two, 'loop', the loop of which seems to be a 3-note bassline which drives the tune, but not without some variation. Over this, reverb-laden flutes (or flute-like things), guttural moans, and arpeggiated guitars noodle around. It's not really spacey or exploratory (by which I mean it's nothing like Hawkwind) but seems more concerned with keeping the atmosphere burning bright. Sometimes the band kicks it up a notch, but then they pull back soon after. There is also heavy use of flanger in this track. It pounds along for ten minutes, eventually climaxing in a mess of horns, and then we're left with decaying breezes. I'm not sure where I've actually been taken to, though. And then 'Myrrh (reprise)' which is the epic instrumental piece at the end, which I just sat through and enjoyed, but I don't know if I have the ability to write much about it. There's a thick, big band sound and tons of instruments, lots of rock gestures (loud chord changes, roto toms and all that) though I wouldn't call it that. I'm tired by the end of it, and this is just the intro into a Cerberus Shoal mini-gauntlet - only 3 discs, but they feel long. Time hasn't been as kind to Homb as it should have; I think my own biases against production techniques are interfering with my appreciation of the musical construction. I think I like my weird coastal soundscapes to be lo-fi and scrappy, or maybe I just had a prejudice against people who can actually play the drums.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cardinal (Wonderland)

Of all the things that you never expected to see reissued in a deluxe edition with bonus tracks! When the Cardinal album reappeared in 2005 I was delighted - for one, because my original love of this album was only known through a cassette dub. Now vinyl would have been nicer (and we can keep dreaming) but at least they did that fancy Japanese-style cardboard sleeve that resembles a mini-gatefold LP. I'll tolerate a CD here because this is really clean, bright music, despite the warbly and murky voice of Eric Matthews and the reedy one of Richard Davies. I'll preface this by admitting that Richard Davies is, for me, one of the most singularly visionary songwriters in all of music, and I'm pretty much a fanboy. Matthews, well, he's not so bad either and I also thought this was a great collaboration because it truly felt 50/50. The liner notes indicate a far more Davies-leaning slant to the songwriting than I realised - Matthews is really the brain behind the arrangements. But when he pulls out the pen, it's cool - 'Dream Figure' being the only song on the proper album that he wrote solo. And it's a good one, with some grungy guitar action over lumbering rhythmic momentum. So really, he's like the understudy apprenticing with the master. And there are some incredible, brilliant songs on this record. 'If You Believe in Christmas Trees' is the opener and still the most iconic Cardinal song (and a good pick for my "best leadoff tracks of all-time" list). The orch-pop tendencies are shown here with a full horn section, but it never overcomes the trio at the core -- Cardinal is far closer to the garage than to Forever Changes. This is a record with many slowly unfolding, long, catchy hooks. 'You've Lost Me There' and 'Big Mink' are both amazing. 'Angel Darling' is a more contemplative duet-type ballad that bursts with horns only to repeatedly pull back into its shell. 'Tough Guy Tactics' is a group contribution and one where drummer Bob Fay's impact is most felt, with it's Sebadoh-like chorus. The sole cover on the album is 'Singing to the Sunshine' by an obscure 60's group called Mortimer. I've never heard the original, but Davies and Matthews harmonizing over a light guitar strum and confident bassline makes some magic. Particularly as the penultimate track - and then we get 'Silver Machines', another total masterpiece. Even though I never heard this song until college, it somehow stirs memories of my earliest teenage years, of wandering through parks and museums with cheap headphones on, and of waiting for my parents to pick me up. Overall, as albums go, Cardinal is not an all-out classic, but a personal classic that obviously attracted some followers over the past 18 years. The most obviously brilliant songs are at the start and finish, leaving a middle that I continue to explore with each listen. Now onto the bonus tracks. Well, a demo version of 'Xmas Trees' is a nice start - it's such a strong tune that even without the horns etc. it's still great. And there's some lyrical variation as well. 'You've Lost Me There', in demo form, allows Matthews' breathy croon to really fill the speakers and I might even prefer it to the studio recording. 'Tribute to a Crow' is brief and buried in reverb and riffage - a psych experiment that is a bit of a diversion for Cardinal's otherwise Apollonian mission. There's two cuts from the other Cardinal release, the Toy Bell EP, which both show a younger sound, and only 'Sweatshirt Gown' begins to hint at the transcendence of the full-length, but it ends before it gets going. And finally we get two versions of the great lost Cardinal track, 'Say the Words Impossible', the B-side to the 'Xmas Trees' single. It's a slow creeper, a bit less malevolent in it's demo form. But the studio version has vocals bathed in white noise, and a very austere guitar arpeggio; Davies' cryptic imagery feels like the credits are rolling, and it was a wise choice for the last track. 1994 was an interesting time for pop music like this; it feels so outside of the commercial 'alternative' scene that was happening in the charts, but at the same time, it's some reflection of that. Growing up myself during this time, it felt like these 60's-influenced indie pop bands (Zumpano also comes to mind) were really challenging the (as I perceived it) shallowness and immaturity of stuff like Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Hole, etc. Now I have the hindsight to realise that these artists had little to do with each other. But it helped to form my own tastes and identity, which is why the Cardinal album is lockstep with my own development.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cardigans - 'Gran Turismo' (Mercury/Polygram)

In which my secret enjoyment of Swedish pop music is revealed! I forgot that this one was on the shelf, I guess because it's white minimalist spin is easy to not-notice. I'm not entirely sure how I ended up with this; something tells me "promo" or freebie but the barcode is not punctured. Anyway, it's been ages since the Cardigans cold mid-tone pop has graced my ears, so long that the glossy pages of the CD booklet have started to stick together. The songs are infectious enough that I still remember a few of 'em. It's not as pure saccharine as my memory told me, or as others from their homeland are certainly known for (yes, Abba, but I was actually thinking of the Concretes). 'Paralyzed' starts off with a very digital, yet not-overly synthesized hook and an edgy lead vocal. The big hit for me was 'Erase/Rewind', which follows a rather call and response pattern. The singer doesn't have an amazingly distinct voice but it's good for pop music, and both compressed and echo'd at the same time to make it feel even more cold. The title of this record is a Playstation game from the time (1998!) and I can't help but read images of motion and driving into these sons. 'Marvel Hill' and 'Starter' both get some crunchy rhythmic interplay into their back-end, though I wouldn't go as far as to call it 'heavy' -- the drums are too sequenced to allow the proper breathing space. But the details are there - guitars through probably hundreds of rack/studio effects are balanced among (rather restrained) organ/MIDI stuff, and it all gels together nicely. 'My Favourite Game' is maybe most calculated for chart success, with a rollicking brashness that holds up well after twelve years. Tempo shifts are always good and this chorus hangs in a nice slowdown; I can't help but think how this might actually be "timeless" pop (yes, I just wrote that) because it could pass in the current era pretty much unchanged. (Or maybe with a smidgeon of autotune applied?) I expected to toss this on the discard pile by the end, and I still might, but only because it's a CD. Records like this are really the last gasp of the CD era - not released on vinyl (as far as I know, it's a major label of course) and before the whole iTunes stuff hit. The Swedish cheaptones of the past are the landfills of tomorrow!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Can - 'Ege Bamyasi' (Spoon)

I don't remember where I first heard of Can - probably mentioned in some article or interview. I do remember the first time I decided to listen to them, when I was chatting with a coworker. I was sixteen and I had a job working in a library. There was an older music nerd who worked there and I remember asking him what his favourite bands were. He told me that it was probably Pere Ubu (who I had heard of surely, but not listened to) and Can. To which I replied 'The German band?'. Latter that night I went to a Silkworm gig. Anyway I'm digressing again, trying to babble on about my personal history with this music instead of talking about the actual sounds here. Ege Bamyasi is somewhat of a watershed; things weren't quite the same afterwards though I can't quite put my finger on why. This is a much more smooth, fluid record than Tago Mago. 'Pinch', the opener, is languid and bright, though frantic; it's Jaki Liebezeit stretching out and letting everyone else paint broad watercolour strokes over him. 'Sing Swan Song' is simultaneously ballad and minimalist heartpulse. Czukay's bass is brutal and pummeling despite the soft edges, and Suzuki takes us to a new a place with his emoting. 'One More Night' I can't disassociate these days from the loop that appears as the backing track to a few Joe Frank radio shows, during which you can really focus/obsess on it's disjointed rhythm. I'd like to say that this is a dub approach again, built upon a long jammy riff with most of the changes coming from elements coming in and out - 70's cop guitar, cymbals, Damo's voice, etc. It's three tracks in before you realise that this is a new poppy side of Can, no doubt motivated by the hit of 'Spoon', which is tacked on here as the final track. 'Vitamin C' takes us back to the kinetic repetitive funk of 'Hallelujah', though condensed into three minutes and even more open of a songform. There's enough room here for Damo to get quite lyrical, and while his experimentation on Tago Mago is unparalleled here, by this point it really feels like the man is finding a new voice. It's a Can jam for a mixtape, though it ends prematurely. I always swore it was a lot longer. Irmin brings in a somewhat liturgical organ solo near the end, but this is the church of psychological warfare. And there's a segue into 'Soup', the most 'out' track of Ege Bamyasi. This is a tick-tock Jeopardy game, with harshly squealing white noise and electric piano bumps, all somehow kept contained while constantly threatening to rip itself apart. It's a rocker until it breaks into a more freeform section, sounding almost EXACTLY like an Area record. Damo is even affecting some Italianness (Dago Suzumi? I couldn't resist, sorry), all gutturals, sputterings, and rolled consonants. Irmin is going far more synthy than the soft organs we heard on the earlier tracks, and once again (like the end of 'Aumgn') we have Jaki pushed to the forefront. But it doesn't outstay its welcome (not to imply that 'Aumgn' does!) and quickly takes us to the two pop tunes, 'I'm So Green' and 'Spoon'. The former is an edgy jazz-rocker built around a nice Liebezeit/Czukay shuffle and some arpeggiated jangle. It sets a mood quite similar to what the band did with Mooney, though again with a syncopation they could have only dreamed about in 1968. By the end of it's economical three minutes, we've reached something chaotically psychedelic that I'm still not sure how to read. And 'Spoon' was the tune for a cop show, or something like that. Fair enough, cause it's properly suspenseful, built around an ethereal pop hook, laden in reverb and with haunting background vocals. Hit songs are nothing to be ashamed of, and this maybe manages to capture Can at their peak in just three minutes. I know it lacks the long-form workouts, synth/vocal diversions or instrumental freakouts but there's still something to be said for it. The sense of spacyness - not like Hawkwind, but like Alvin Lucier - is there, despite being a fairly busy arrangement, and while no musician really gets to go for it, there's the sense of collective brainmeld that could only happen when a brilliant band reachers their peak.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Can - 'Monster Movie' (Spoon)

It just so happens that 'Father cannot yell' was the first Can song I ever heard, because it's also track 1 on the Cannibalism compilation CD which my university library loaned me during my freshman year. When that rapid, oscillating keyboard started and then another rapid, oscillating drum and bass lick came in to support it, things were never quite the same for me. Monster Movie is a curious one to review now because while all four songs have their strengths, I actually very rarely bother listening to it anymore. There's a lot of ideas here, and most importantly a rudimentary/primitive edge that sort of disappears gradually over the next few albums (is this in any way identifiable as the same band of Future Days?). One can't deny the blues/garage edge, but then Michael Karoli's guitar lines usually sound like hot, pointy daggers. There's a missing rhythm guitarist here, not that Czukay et al lacks the rhythmic skills -- but with the chug-chug chunkiness taken away, they've already found some sort of inner space. Monster Movie has the feel of being recorded in one take, with less focus on studio techniques than we'd later associate with this band. 'Mary, Mary so contrary' is the ballad, or at least a place for Malcolm Mooney to try to inject his warped bleatings with some passion. It has a lumbering movement that sounds like it evolved from some of the middle tracks on Delay 1968, but a bit more precise. 'Outside my door' is the shortest track and one that I like to play when DJing. It has a rambling electric blues feel, and a driving harmonic/violin/keyboard riff (what exactly is it?), and it's probably one of the more 'punk' tracks in the Can oeuvre. But really, the monolithic beast of Monster Movie is 'Yoo Doo Right', which is a sideways inversion of rock arrangement, complete with random/modular vocals. It's such a cliché by this point and I realised after about 9 minutes in -- I haven't actually listened to this song in years. Usually when I put on Monster Movie (which is not that often, sadly) I don't invest myself in the full 20:14 needed to get through 'Yoo Doo Right'. Which is a shame, because I think it's a remarkable track, even if you feel that it's overplayed by the end of it. This is really the earliest use of spacey jazzmopherics in Can's discography, and you can see how it signals ahead to 'Mother Sky'. I guess that's why it has the distinction of being covered by both the Geraldine Fibbers AND Hieronymous Firebrain. Parts drop in and out, but it never stops pulsing, and at times it's hard to distinguish Holger's bass guitar from Jaki's bass drum and/or toms. There's a dark sibilence on everything, and, well, Malcolm Mooney sounds like he's about 79 years old here. He croaks and rasps and there's really no one else who could have carried this song, even though he's seen as the "lesser" Can vocalist. 'Yoo Doo Right' was also on Cannibalism, bookending the collection with 'Father Cannot Yell' beginning it, so I went straight to Monster Movie as my starting point. Its legacy may merely be the first album of a legendary band, but not a legendary album in its own, but it still explodes in its own way.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Can - 'Delay 1968' (Spoon)

An essential part of the four-year college experience, for me at least, was sitting around with my friends listening to Can records and dreaming of changing the universe through sound. Actually when going through this project I'm starting to realise how much of what I'm listening to takes me back to those four years, or the time period immediately after them. It's true that I barely even hear these Can records for being records anymore, since I've heard them so much they're become 'classic rock' to me. But listening now, with the explicit goal of typing something right here for you to read, I tend to come across things I forgot (example: the kazoo playing at the end of 'Man Named Joe' while Jaki Liebezeit is kicking a high school talent show drum solo). I got rid of all of my Beatles records about 8 years ago when I realised that there was no point to owning them, since I could just turn on the radio if I wanted to hear the Beatles. I almost feel that way about Can, though of course no radio station will play Can with the ubiquity that they deserve - -but I suppose I could look on YouTube quite readily to hear (and see!) all the Can I could want in a single dosage. The reason I feel like it would be okay to get rid of my Can records is not that I don't love them, but because they are such an iconic entry in the canon of music that I almost feel like my time could be spent listening to something else. And I realise I'm not explaining that very well, which is well enough since I'm definitely not going to get rid of these records. I'm not sure where to file Delay 1968, since it came out in 1981 but clearly pre-dates Monster Movie. This is such a fun record to listen to, cause it's Can as basement-punk pounders, with no real trace of the textural genius they would get into later. Instead we get distorted guitar riffs, Doors-on-more-acid organ layers, and lots and lots of Malcolm Mooney. 1968 was a hell of a year - romanticised endlessly in the history of rock music, and certainly one responsible for some barnstormers, but this feels like it's coming from another planet. The rhythm section is already established here, filling the disc with that 'Can' sound. Liebezeit's jazz background is held in check in favour of minimal monotonous pounding, with subtle polyrhthymic inflections between the beats -- but nothing to steal the spotlight or take away from the unity of the group! I believe that 'Uphill' and 'Little Star of Bethlehem' definitely rank with the greatest Can songs ever, as perfect samplers of the pre-Damo sound. 'Uphill' is exploratory and horizontal, with band members coming in and out with different layers, solos and stabs. It resembles the opening cut, 'Butterfly', in these aspects, but turbocharged with more oomph (and with that weird ending I guess is a studio accident/error)? 'Little Star' is certainly Mooney's show, with his exemplary lyrical gift being displayed in the most extemporaneous of fashions. But this is also a masterpiece of Michael Karoli's guitar work. It's subtle, and well-crafted, but also thrilling and cutthroat while somehow being the same song. There's not a bad track on this record though. 'Pnoom' is the head-scratcher, but not for long at 26 seconds, and it looks forward to Tago Mago. 'Thief' is a ballad of sort, with Mooney's denial/plea sounding nearly convincing and properly desperate. The story goes that Delay 1968 was shelved so they could make something more commercial, but they made Monster Movie instead, which sounds equally weird to me. Delay 1968 is about as 'classic' as a posthumously released album can be, but since it's actually beginning, we can hear the sounds of genesis. Which can be just as wonderful as the sounds of apocalypse.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead. Long Live Camper Van Beethoven' (Pitch-A-Tent)

It was a shock to hear about this CD, in 2002, when I didn't expect to ever hear another peep from Camper Van Beethoven. But since then, they've become a semi-active band again, although one that has only released fairly experimental new work and mostly plays the classics in concert (I've seen 'em twice and they were awesome both times). Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead, Long Live Camper Van Beethoven is a second odds-and-ends compilation, but not a "normal" one like Vantiquities - it's built upon old material from concert recordings and demos, overdubbed with state-of-the-art 2002 recording techniques. This approach is pretty obvious, particularly as they tried a bit too hard to make things flow. So, the very raw live recording of 'L'Aguardiente' (a nice Balkan stomper) blends into the very studio-based 'Tom Flower's 1500 Valves' with some audience noise to mask the transition, but it's blatant smoke and mirrors. So yeah, this feels pretty incomplete (by definition), with a few old fan-faves like 'SP37957' and 'Balalaika Gap' thrown as bones. The musique concrete experimentation, like the opening track whose name is too long to bother retyping, isn't half-bad -- the opener in particular could be a Morton Subotnick outtake, but it's worthwhile as a bit of outsider electronic experimentation (which I'm sure no one treated it as). If you want to hear new unearthed Camper Van Beethoven vocal-based songs, well, there's a few, though the only really great one is 'Klondike' -- 'Tom Flower's' is a bit lackluster and 'We're All Wasted and We're Wasting All Your Time' is merely 'Shut Us Down' crossed with 'No More Bullshit' crossed with 'The Ambiguity Song' crossed with 'Life is Grand' (and you can guess where it's sequenced). The orchestral 'All Her Favorite Fruit' is expectedly grandiose, but maybe a tad out of place here (but where else would they put it, right?) -- and I prefer the original anyway, because you don't need an orchestra to carry the gravitas. Also notable is another cover of 'Who Are the Brain Police?' (the first one being by CVB offshoot Monks of Doom, though this one has a lot more pizazz). The long composited medley of different live versions of 'SP37957' (I'm assuming from the Key Lime Pie tour, but maybe we're hearing Fichter and Segel together thanks to digital editing) actually has some visionary (in inauthentic) improvisational sections, and it might be my pick of this disc. So what I'm holding is maybe the least essential CD ever, but if it enabled this band to get back together, I'm all for it.