Saturday, 7 July 2012

Dialing In - 'Cows in Lye' (Pseudo Arcana)

The first Dialing In release I heard, Ketalysergicmetha Mother, was a shocking blast of ur-drone - when I was far past the tipping point of enjoying psychedelic drone, or so I thought. What a shockingly great record that was! Dialing In, a one-woman project from Seattle, somehow transcends the plethora of mediocre drone-swirl that was being made at the time this was released. 2006 was only six years ago, yet it somehow feels like so much has changed. Cows in Lye isn't exactly placid meditation music - it's active, and demanding in its horizontality. Dialing In plays with the contrast between something moving quite a lot and something moving hardly at all, and the rumbling disconnect of frequencies between. The formula is mostly unchanged throughout - a thick heavy base, a few layers of sounds pulling in different directions, mostly occupying isolated frequency bands - and a balance between chaotic and repetitious. There's something that happens throughout which is hard to describe, but gives Cows in Lye a warped, ethnic-music feel. Some of the higher, more active sonorities, particularly in cuts like 'City of Dogs', sound almost like a field recording of Indian street musicians - all melting shenhai's and other such Hindu horns. Herb Diamante guests on track two, with a long vocal rant which is similarly distant and untouchable - it lends the track a real 'Napoleon and Josephine' feel, and the words (a call to prayer, if we are to believe the title) slip and slide around direct meaning. In the length jam-out track, 'Thorazine Eclipse', a three-chord progression is felt in warm fuzzy synthpads, recalling familiar echoes of AM radio hits; though it's wordless, the cadence grounds the piece and it feels accessible. In some ways it's like a precursor to the whole hypnogogic pop thing that started happening soon after this; certainly Dialing In's peers would be the Skaters/James Ferraro, both in milieu, geography (the West coast is close enough) and construct. Cows in Lye throughout has that "mid-fi" feeling - there's enough of a dynamic spectrum to allow separation/clarity, though static unknowing is of course the raison d'être of this. As much leeway as any individual moment might have, there's something incredibly exact about this constructions, which is why it's so remarkable.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Destroyer - "Streethawk: A Seduction' (Misra)

I've listened to this CD so many times that I can't actually play it anymore. Not because I'm tired of it -- far from that -- but because one day I dropped the disc into some freshly applied polyurethane while refinishing some wood, and now it doesn't play. I kept the disc as a tribute, burned a copy from a friend, and resumed it's regular rotation. Streethawk: A Seduction is a title that sounds like a concept album, and maybe it is. Despite my hundreds of listens I'm not quite sure what the story is, though Bejar really explicitly takes on the world of indie music here, with frequent references to culture which would normally make me wince, but here are done expertly (and cryptically). Track two, 'The Bad Arts', may be the greatest Destroyer song; it has it all, an epic buildup, lyrics that seem very much of my world in 2001 ('Thou shall not take part in, or make bad art'!), and a beautiful, transcendent coda (with lyrics borrowed from a Joy Division tune). I will say it again - I have listened to Streethawk a shocking number of times, and would count it among my favourite albums of all time, so I have learned every nook and cranny of it's sounds. This means that every little hesitation or embellishment in Bejar's vocal delivery is a secret signal to me, a talisman for the strange world I dove into over a decade ago when I first heard this. There's the perfect amount of suggestion here; I once read into 'Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea of Tears)' a narrative directly applicable to my own life, knowing of course this was ridiculous, but that's why metaphors are great. Every song is a classic here; there's not a second of filler (whereas the last two albums had frequent instrumental interludes, Streethawk is overflowing with language, making me think Bejar hit a real creative burst around this time). Over time, the songs that had the least impact on me grew to become my favourites. I could just list the things I love here. When this was released it got a fair amount of attention, which it deserved, though I couldn't help but feel the Bowie comparisons were overdone. Yeah, the ascending vocals and piano on songs like 'The Sublimation Hour' are totally Ziggy Stardust, but after a few hundred listens I started to see a stronger connection to Pavement. It sounds crazy because the aesthetic is different, but the vocal turns and casual yet expressive glitches in his delivery are shockingly similar to Malkmus circa Wowee Zowee. The way Bejar sings "Helena, the ramifications / are very large tonight / the stars say don't pick a fight" is among rock music's most beautiful subtleties, but I hear a lot of 'We Dance' in there too. Musically, there more confidence here, plus the presence of Jason Zumpano on drums, continuing the path from Zumpano's own brilliant records a few years earlier. The succes of this record led to big changes in Destroyer, and he's spent most of the past decade trying out different things, confident and progressive at all times. I've kept up with all of it, but this is still his masterpiece and the one I return to most frequently.

Destroyer - 'Thief' (Cave Canem/Triple Crown Audio/Catsup Plate)

Why does one listen to a pop song over and over and over? The 'earworm' nature of a good hook surely releases some rush of endorphins, as well as the pleasures of familiarity. Then there's the case of meaning, construction and the moments in which one can be moved by a vocal delivery, an instrumental gesture, or other moment. In this case, I've been listening to Thief and it's followup CD (Streethawk) for well over a decade, amassing a ridiculous number of listens, without really understanding why. There's a lot of meaning for me in these songs, though I struggle to explain it. I certainly fell in love with Destroyer the first time I heard the lyric "Please spring us, Madeleine, from these rustic jails of lust we're living in" but I sure don't fucking understand it. Thief follows the City of Daughters sound, though the Emax synth interludes are accented with electric piano -- 'Every Christmas' is the halfway point of the disc and it does a nice job of letting down the adrenaline after the rushes of 'Falcon's Escape' and 'City of Daughters' (like Queen, Destroyer doesn't feel obligated to put the title tracks on the same albums they are named after) -- and 'M.E.R.C.I.' adds hazy vocals to the mix . You can certainly hear over the first five Destroyer records the creep towards more grandiose and ambitious arrangements, though some of  Thief 's best moments are when this is stripped back, like the title track which is a massively underrated gem. 'Destroyer's the Temple' is the classic it deserves to be, and still the first song I would play for anyone interested in Bejar as a songwriter. If you don't like this tune, you won't like Destroyer cause it's all there: the strange singing voice with it's dramatic flareups, oblique yet intriguing lyrics, and perfectly balanced pop hooks. This feels significantly more 'band' than the last record as there are some moments of true instrumental prowess - the energy of 'To The Heart of the Sun On the Back Of the Vulture, I'll Go' and the aforementioned 'Falcon's Escape' are two such examples, both titles involving birds of prey and with circles and swoops to reflect it. There's little solo acoustic strum here, as it's quickly fleshed out by organ, drums, and the rest of it. But this Destroyer is sharp -'Queen of Languages' has a pinpoint precision to it's swing, and 'The Way of Perpetual Roads' is more rhythmically complex than it looks. Everything about Thief is a bit unusual for its time - the arrangements, the scope, and even the cover art suggest an attempt to be something different than another indierock songwriter. If Canada is a parallel universe to the US, which is what it seemed like in the 90s (cite the Blue Pine CD for another example), than this was exactly the bizarro genius doppleganger to all the Malkmuses (Malkmii?) and Pollards I was so otherwised immersed in.

Friday, 1 June 2012

DENT - 'verstärker' (Magnetic)

DENT's second release is much more club-orientated, but the first half quickly blendsinto an electronica-tinged soup. The sequenced drums aren't really the problem, but rather the reliance on 'groove' replacing texture. Despite this, I sorta like Verstärker, or at least remembered liking it back in the late 90's when I last spun it. The split between vocal/songform tracks and musicality-rooted jams are much more severe than on Stimmung. When there's singing, it's a different world than the beat-orientated bits. When it's fruity, DENT seems to be trying to push things a bit further here. But I think I like it more integrated. My problem is that the jammy bits are messy - too much kitchen sink-aesthetic for my tastes. It gets more song-based as the album proceeds, leaving a pleasant taste when it finishes. There's more than a few missteps -  'Jaded Eyes', for example, can't help but remind me of a 4NonBlondes outtake, with weird thumping bass. Yet Verstärker overall is far less tossed-off than the first album, almost like it demands to be taken more seriously. 'Cause the Rain' is the standout track, a moment of real fragility amongst the clatter. There's a female voice that appears througout, perhaps 'Jane Err' or 'Allisong Fate-Levity' as credited, ad it's chilling. 'Tsuki e' is another standout, a bit of forest-folk ten years before all that shit started happening. Krummenacher's folky side comes out in the end, and it sounds like a completely different band than on the first half of the disc - an inconsistency that could be maddening, or a virtue.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

DENT - 'Stimmung' (Magnetic)

I have already confessed my love for Camper Van Beethoven earlier in these annals, but we have yet to investigate the weird side projects that I also love. Don't worry, we'll have our dalliance with Monks of Doom eventually, and just a warning - Meridian is gonna get the Golden Cinderblock Award. But what about the lesser-known offshoots? Sadly, I don't have any Hieronymous Firebrain records apart from some old dubbed tapes, but shit, what I wouldn't give to hear 'Waning Crescent Love Spit' right now! (Thanks, Bandcamp, for making this possible). DENT is J. Segel and V. Krummenacher, and a cadre of friends, all under silly pseudonyms like 'Stands-Naked-In-Moonlight' and 'MC Salmon'. DENT is where these guys let loose and make weird, improvisatory music with an experimental edge, except it's not that wild -- there's an organic, instrumental quality to almost everything here. The vocals are largely extemporized and when the porny guitar leads (a tendency evident in later Monks of Doom records, for sure) take over, it's undercut by the babbling vocals and music-box overdubs ('April Fools' and the opening track 'Make Me 1 w/everything' are great examples of this). Stimmung, which has nothing to do with the Stockhausen work, as far as I can tell, was a strange record for me to listen to when I was 16. I enjoyed the songforms most of all - the subtle pop hooks, the almost-too-far excursions into dance and hip-hop forms, and most of all the mystique. My deep love of all things Camper Van Beethoven certainly helped, and the spirit of irreverence remains throughout this even if the ha-ha is absent. The epic jam here is 'Manchester Mystery House', a long techno-influenced maximalist overture, but my pick is 'Some Grey Clouds', an eerie, discordant experiment that lets the space take over - a sea of isolated vocal snippets and tentative string plucks, with a tidal ebb and flow beneath. Sure, Stimmung is tossed-off, but after listening to it now for the first time in a decade, I'm enjoying it far more than I would have ever imagined. There's a tension between the more lyrical, Krummenacher-driven tunes ('Paris? New Mexico' is a wonderful psych-folk jam, reminding me a bit of CVB's 'Form Another Stone' from II & III) and the (I assume) Segel-drievn freakouts. There's an untitled bonus track, because everyone putting out their own CDs in the mid-90s was obsessed with this possibility, and it's the most straight-ahead folksong imaginable (even against 'Won't You', which has a Holy Modal Rounders-style warp to it), a rant about then-California governor Pete Wilson. Dated as it may be now, it's a voice of countercultural protest that needed to go somewhere, though I understand why they left it off the track listing. At just over an hour, Stimmung slightly wears out its welcome, but it's interesting to wonder why these musicians feel so free here and not as free on their other Magnetic-label projects. It's not like the goof quotient is shocking or uncommercial; but then something makes this out of step with indie music of 1995, indeed. 

Warn Defever - "Remixes" (Time-Stereo)

This CD-R compiles 18 different remixes by Warn Defever, released some time in the late 90's during this brief period when indie artists were getting into "remixes", clearly an attempt to reclaim the creative dub-act from popular R&B artists, rappers, etc. This is a mixed bag and not really attributable to Defever, but where else do I file it? It ranges from really raw, amateurish pop/folk (courtest of Deonna & Laura who appear twice) and more abstract, dance rhythms. Warn's remix of Astor Piazolla's "Unauthorized" is the real centerpiece of the CD, turning the tango master into a slowed-down trip-hop meditation that barely resembles any tango I've ever heard. Thurston Moore's 'Roots' is likewise a hissy, hazy set of bumps and bruises. My taste for Defever is generally for his Harry Smith-influenced tracks, and the total powerpop - his more "urban" aesthetics often leave me feeling a bit uneasy, and the 90's electronica vibe that infuses much of this disc makes it less than enthralling for my ears. But when he's remixing his own projects, or projects he is close to (Control Panel, The ESP's, Flashpapr) it's at it's best - taking on the wax cylinder vibe that infuses the 100 Years disc recently reviewed here, it's an otherworldly midwest distance that I totally love. Not being familiar with any of the original tunes except for Run On's 'Don't Go' (except it was called 'Go There' when I first fell in love with it). Said track gets a warbly, dubby jam which is lackluster until the Alan Licht guitar slaying comes in, super-processed here into an insane computerised sludge - but just for a second! I'm not sure to what extent Warn is actually intervening -- Happy Apple's 'Sad Song' is a total classic country strum, with weird domestic noise overtop, sounding almost like he just played it through a boom box and then re-recorded it with room sounds. The effect, though, is mesmerising anyway, at least to these ears. I'm not wild about the needless electronic percussion in much of this, but then Godzuki takes on a power-pop/twee side I don't remember about them at all when I saw them in 1995. If I had an unlimited budget I'd probably buy everything on Time-Stereo, but this I just picked up when I saw Defever live at the show I mentioned in the last review. A vanity project, sure, but that's what CDr labels are for. I almost decided to toss this when I started listening to it, but the charming twee/Americana tracks are worthy enough to keep, and besides, what would I do with it?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Warn Defever - 'I Wan You To Live 100 Years' (P & C Lo)

When we get to the H's, you'll discover my deep love for His Name is Alive and Warn Defever in general. He's got a lot of great non-HNIA projects, chief among them probably the New Grape cassette, but I'm not sure if this is one of them. Recorded at the peak of Defever's Americana nostalgia, the twelve songs on this disc were recorded on a wax cylinder, or maybe just played back through a static-drenched radio, or maybe just run through a VST plug-in. Either way, the distant, 100-years ago fidelity attempts to conceptually tie together the record, which is rooted in an old nostalgic turn-of-the-century aesthetic. It also has the advantage of masking, at least partially, some of Defever's terribly off-key singing. I have a big soft spot for this album, which begins with a Willie Nelson cover ('Sad Songs & Waltzes') and proceeds through even more countrified originals. These tracks occasionally touch the cute/sad dichotomy of this era of HNIA ('One Year' turns up later, I think) and the naievete is of course the whole idea. The guy started getting really into organic freejazz sound explorations soon after this, which led to some wonderfully unappreciated music, but this is still Defever deep into his ESP-summer thing, and I for one enjoy it. Though I'm not completely sure how much it works - I like listening to it, but it's been years since I pulled it out, and for so much thought put into the concept, a bit more could have gone into the execution. 'Cheatin' Heart' is not a Hank Williams cover but could as well be; said organ is mentioned in two titles, as 'Heart Struck Sorrow' involves Defever banging away with confidence on his axe.  I saw him live on this tour and remember this song distinctly, and also an audience wondering why this guy thought he could sing. There's the same little musical interludes that appear on the best HNIA records (Stars on ESP and Fort Lake, if you're asking), sometimes between the songs and at other times just between the verses. The whole disc ends with an ancient recording of a song proclaiming the great state of Michigan, and you know what? Defever doesn't even mean it ironically.

Debris - 'Static Disposal' (Anopheles)

This 76-minute collection of Debris' lone 1976 private-press LP + all sorts of rehearsal materials is a window into a warped vision of music coming from Chickasha, Oklahoma. 35 years ago I like to think the South and Midwest was producing the freakiest freaks of all, whose geographic isolation makes them all the more special. Historical excavation has given us gems such as the Pataphysical revue CD from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and whatever the Reverend Dwight Frizzell was doing in Kansas. Debris are somewhere in-between these outer limits and semi-local peers like the Embarassment, except in that proto-punk way. Static Disposal is a great bit of fun, though it's the first eleven tracks, comprising the album proper, which are at least remotely polished. This is closer to the ramshackle rock of Pere Ubu or Chrome than anything too exploratory, as everything is grounded by the guitar-bass-drums, though with synths, saxes, and a vocal delivery one part glam, one part asylum. Part of the joy of Debris is their obscurity and unlikely surroundings - we can only imagine what they were aspiring to be, though I guess it's all laid out in the 32-page booklet that I got bored reading. Some songs like 'One Way Spit' and 'New Smooth Lunch' are utterly brilliant in their cracked grandeur. In other moments, the affected Bryan Ferryisms of the vocalists (either Johnny Gregg or Oliver Powers) achieve actual empathy, such as in the bluesy 'Tell Me'. A Lizard King even appears in 'Flight Taken', perhaps the most sci-fi and drugged of these tunes (though you have to wonder what you could score in Chickasha). There's no rock pyrotechnics here, not much improvisation - instead a warped cry of misfits from a true East ga-bumfuck. After track 11 we start to get into rehearsal tapes which are of course much more fun, though harder to listen to. We get a better sense of the band as a unit here, as on 'Zebra Ranch' where there's actually a pretty cohesive bass/drums groove at points. 'Gun' is the longest and freakiest workout, with damaged Echoplex guitar noise, and a monotonous rhythmic bed behind. It's a testament to one-take magic, and the wonder of the CD format means we can experience it today,

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Dead C (Language Recordings)

So, guys, what have you been up to since leaving Siltbreeze? It seems quite a lot, and this felt like it was coming out of nowhere in 2000, though it's already twelve years old (time passing is scary!). This is the most experimental turn the Dead C have ever taken, completely forsaking the human voice in favour of ring modulator galore. This is entirely free improv, or at least it seems that way, and a fuck of a lot of it (disc 1 is 62 minutes and disc 2 is 68). In the first hour+, we start with a Tusk-like intro, 'Accelerate', though really this disc is gonna slow us down down down, as track two, 'Dec' indicates. The freedom is everywhere, and it masterfully builds on the decade and a half of rapport built up between the three of them. 'Pussyfooting' bring in a wonderfully ringing guitar, being played I guess with a mallet or some other percussive technique. The sound of the chords - the true spirit of rock and roll, right? - is warm and reverberating when it finally crashes in. It's a long journey through 'Speederbot', 33 minutes, and disc 2 is a welcome change of pace. It takes absolutely ages to listen to this and its hard to pay attention, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Though this isn't ambient music - nor is it deep-listening music - it works in some strange hybrid between-ground. There's slightly spazzy, falling apart chaotic rock dotting disc 2 ('Realisation con Slider' and 'Tuba is Funny (slight return)', a redux of the Tusk hit, I guess). 'One Night' comes midway through it all as a shockingly up-close alien aesthetic, a true gem that cheats from the ringing room sound of the rest of this disc (and their career in general). 'Fake Electronics' is another highlight, a placid, beautiful glow that fades into the distance, almost causing me to nod off until 'Tuba' jolts me awake. Listening to these discs takes all day and my mind drifts as much as the ringmod, but by the time I got to the other side I was glad for the journey. Even if I miss the 'classic' Dead C a bit, there's plenty to celebrate here.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Dead C - 'Tusk' (Siltbreeze)

When I first heard the Dead C, Tusk was their current album. I'm not sure if it's the very first one I heard, or maybe just one of the first, but it helped to define the band to me, early on, as a bunch of anti-music conceptualists. This mostly incorrect assessment (they were anti-something, but extremely musical) is largely based on the opening cut, 'Plane', which is not to say that I didn't listen to the rest of the CD. And probably also on the cover art, which is an eerie, Goya-esque drawing that echoes the minimal liner notes(a monolithic font, big bold letters, and nothing in the way of recording credits save a "NZ1997" at the bottom). It was probably 'Head's monster summation that really drew me to the band, which is actually a pretty amazing rock song that is constantly on the verge of collapse. Which, I guess, sums up Tusk nicely. The title track is the most free-form, though it bears far more resemblance to  The White House, Repent, and even Operation of the Sonne than to the Fleetwood Mac record I can't help but compare it to. Tusk is a really great collection of the Dead C doing everything they do - it's as varied and complete as Harsh 70s Reality, as you get the spacious, improvised soundscapes and also some bone-crunching vocal-led songs. 'Tuba', in a minute and a half, tells you everything you need to know about this band's songwriting capabilities; 'Head's second half would have to go on an all-time best-of (which, apparently, it is - on the Vain, Erudite and Stupid collection). But I keep going back to 'Plane', which begins with 7 minutes of rattling sound tape loop, oh-so-slightly evolving as it shakes around, with one regular variable-speed change to mark regularity. Though it resembles nothing else the Dead C ever recorded, it still shapes sound in space quite wonderfully, even with a limited palette, and feels totally appropriate with the guitars and drums kick in halfway through. This is one I always forget about, as it tends to be overshadowed by the earlier records, partly due, I'd say, to the repetition of songs across multiple releases, in different versions. This is a later Dead C, maybe now best called "mid-period", and the full-fledged ringmod AMMateurism of the Language Recordings era is almost there. Electronics are more present here than in any of the pre-Sonne records, especially on 'Imaginary', which is feels as much about urban decay as it does the wild expanses of one's imagination. This is the last release they did on Siltbreeze, so it's truly the end of an era, and what an era this was.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Dead C - "Trapdoor Fucking Exit' (Siltbreeze)

When Michael Morley groans 'Hell has come, hell has come' in 'Power' (which appears on this disc twice, in original and extra-crispy form) he makes a convincing argument. Trapdoor Fucking Exit actually begins with 'Heaven', then leads (descends?) into 'Hell is Now Love', a slightly more spacious, nervous version of 'Love'. This is a odds-and-sods semi-album built around the 'Helen Said This' 12", which we already addressed in the Underbite blog. But that's a hell of a centrepiece, even if it's split up and fragmented with weird sexual stompers like 'Bone' and and the non-Latin version of 'Bury' wrapped around them. The whole disc clocks in at 69 minutes, and maybe this is the best introduction to the Dead C, though far from their "best" album. There's some true classics here, such as the aforementioned 'Power', another take on 'Sky', and the "acoustico" triptych at the end of  'Power', 'Bone' and 'Mighty', where the Dead C show off how beautiful their banshee squeals can sound in an acoustic setting. (Though these acoustic guitars sound like they are coursing with electricity, and the absence of Robbie Yeats is really felt.) It's a trick they only employ this one time and it's great they don't overuse it (the acoustic-y stuff on the DR503 era not counting). 'Bury (Refutatio Omnium Haeresium)' remains as epic as the first time we listened to it, particularly when it ascends to a beauteous plateau at the end. There's a lot of details here across the length of this disc. 'Mighty' ends with a playful call and response guitar jam, with guest/4th member Chris Heazlewood (who plays on about half of these tracks). 'Helen' retains it's grandeur even in the coarse, digital form of the compact disc; the crawling ebb and flow at the end, arpeggiated and shimmery, remains one of the Dead C's finest moments. This sense of horizontal motion, also present in 'Krossed' (though under duress there) is something I love about open-form music. The ambience that the band has at this point, which stays uniform throughout this whole disc even though the sessions were recorded at different times in 1989/1990. Which I guess means that this should have come before Harsh 70s Reality, though I'm pretty sure it was released after. Maybe this is an error in my chronology, in which case, whoops, sorry.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Dead C - 'Harsh 70s Reality' (Siltbreeze)

This, really, is it. Though really, I feel like I've been repeating myself on each of these trips through the Dead C's musical lair; I'm just creating an echo of empty language in a feeble attempt to convey how great something is that should just be experienced. Maybe that's a way to portray about this blog overall - a failure to articulate. And there's a window, because that tension between articulation and letting it slide; between intention and affect - that's maybe what's so fucking stunning about this CD. There's a lot of Harsh 70s Reality to make it the singular record that it is (even among the band's already stellar catalogue by this point). Opening with 'Driver U.F.O.', the most blatantly anti-structural track they'd released to date, is not a sensible way to begin your masterpiece. But 'Driver U.F.O.' is not just a jam; despite the millions of free-rock, spacey explorations I've heard in my young life, there's something about this one that makes it more complete. I can't articulate (there we go again) much beyond that, but I don't have to. It's a brilliant balance of all things that are great in improvised music, which includes (but is not limited to) texture, rhythm, space, and dramatic currents. One thing you can do with Harsh 70s Reality is consider it alongside other big records of 1991/1992 - specifically Loveless and Nevermind, two records that inspired billions of my peers but in some ways don't hold a candle to the artistic genius and complexity of this. Or maybe, instead of being so quantitative, we can just appreciate these three cornerstones as being three sides all balancing each other, structurally. It's crazy to think twenty years has elapsed here, two-thirds of my life, and that this would probably pass the "Velvet Underground" test - it was certainly heard by the least amount of people compared to Loveless/Nevermind, but probably all of those who found it went off and started their own bands. I myself came late to this, getting into the Dead C around the time of Tusk and luckily coming across a bunch of these CDs secondhand in a short period of time. Talk about getting thrown into the deep end! Back then, it was the long, loose jammy tracks that spoke to me most - 'Driver U.F.O.' and 'Sea is Violet', for example. Whereas the songs, I didn't click with them right away, maybe not til I came across Eusa. 'Sky' is the real comparison against Nirvana; if you have doubts look at the (insane, amazing, thank god for YouTube) live clip online and wonder what was floating in the water down there. 'Love' has been regurgitated in several forms on various records - this is something else to admire about the Dead C, their continual reappraisal of past compositions - but this one is a slow, 10 minute dirge that might be the best take on it. Much of this record ws recorded live, some as far back as '89 according to the liner notes (a barely readable typewriter font on some beautifully minimal artwork). There's not much distinction between studio and live anyway - the fidelity can benefit this sound, but this is a mid-fi world that messrs. Morley, Russell and Yeats pioneered and conquered. Harsh 70s Reality is rounded off with 'Baseheart' and 'Hope', the latter being another all-time great Dead C classic. This is the CD issue and it omits two tracks due to space limitations, which believe it or not, I've never heard (but don't fear, I'm downloading them now). Some years ago I saw the LP version of this for about $40 and I passed it up, but now that seems like a bargain. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dead C - 'Eusa Kills' (Flying Nun/Xpressway)

I didn't toss any of my Dead C CDs when I got the vinyl upgrades so we're gonna have a lot of overlap. Eusa is the one I could definitely let go of since there's nothing unique about the CD, except that it's smaller and sounds worse. I guess it's easier to loan to people, always trying to make a convert. This is actually the perfect hungover Sunday afternoon thing to listen to right now, as 'Now I Fall' is simultaneously drilling into my headache and also teaching me a lesson - the pain that feels so good, so good. Tom Lax's liner notes are pretty fun, as they compare this era of Dead C to early Pere Ubu (I'll buy that comparison) and then says that Eusa, while the 'pop' album, doesn't compare to the live one. By which I guess he means Clyma est mort which we'll get to, also twice, but both times on vinyl! Yeah, I should probably filter out all of this clutter - can you imagine the Underbite lair, a dark, cavernous pile of multiple copies of Dead C albums? But the music, redux. How many times can one band milk the same riff? (Referring to the appearance of 'Max Harris' in the background of 'I was Here'). It's those middle tracks that really draw out the best in me - 'Phantom Power' can lead to decades of investigation, while 'Children' and 'Scarey Nest' are just songs I play when I'm DJing. But awesome songs. The songs really are the key here, the core, the root, and the ether. I wanted to be a child of some revolution, which I never found, but this was close enough.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Dead C - 'DR503C' (Flying Nun)

We're a bit overrun with early Dead C here, and this CD overlaps significanty with the Ba Da Bing reissues we already addressed on the Vinyl Underbite blog. But that's okay, because there's some differences here, though I must admit my head hurts too much (from too many adjacent versions of 'Max Harris') to determine precisely what is the overlap and what is unique here. I'll take a different sequence as reason enough to keep this CD, even though the sound quality doesn't compare to the 180g love that Ba Da Bing gave us. 'Crazy I Know' and 'Speed Kills' start things off, perhaps a decision by Flying Nun to want this CD to at least tangentially resemble other releases on the label, at least for those lazy reviewers who only look at the first few tracks. 'Polio' and 'Max Harris', in all of their lo-fi glory, are the length game here and some parts of The Sun Stabbed are here, though the version of the title track is live (and unique to the CD, for sure).  I've already gushed my unequivocal love for this material when I listened to them on vinyl last week, so I have little to repeat here. I will say that 'Bad Politics' wasn't as enjoyable the fourth time through (cause I listened to the vinyl copies multiple times) but 'Fire' more than makes up for it. I don't know if Ba Da Bing is finished with their reissue programme or if they're gonna delve into the Siltbreeze years -- a vinyl edition of Harsh 70s Reality is a MAJOR hole in my life -- but if they do, they should try to scoop up whatever is left.

Davis Redford Triad - 'Ewige Blumenkraft' (Holy Mountain)

I completely forgot that the Davis Redford Triad existed, and it's probably been a near-decade since I last pulled this CD off the rack. After blowing the dust off, I was transported back to the grimy underworld of early 00's space-drone, and particularly the guitar pyrotechnics of Steven Wray Lobdell.  Lobdell is a bearded weirdo who played in Faust on the tour where I saw them, and this was a band he (I think) led, which mined improvisatory space/psych with impressive dynamics. There's not a lot of rock here, at least not until we get deeply into the disc, and the title cut in particular works out some nasty atmospheres. The opening track could be from the third Labradford album, with it's delicate scrapings and slow echoes. It's a good intro, and 'Apocalypse Greeting Card' sets the dark-psych vibe over it's 9 minutes. Occasionally searing, maybe even broiled, but never too sharp.  It's followed by 'Plum Village', a tranquil bit of Kranky-records style guitar twiddling. Such placidity is nice and the album, which is very well recorded, feels cohesive through the slow fades and guitar explorations. Lobdell's playing (at least I think it's him -- the insert photo shows only three musicians and this is a 'triad', yet 5 are credited on the disc and it feels full full full) is like the underground Eddie Van Halen as it glows with a magical prominence. However, it's not just fretboard tapping but wiry, changing sound waves, weaving a quilt that occasionally explodes. I see these guys have put out a bunch of albums since this, so it's time to catch up.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Richard Davies - 'There's Never Been a Crowd Like This' (Flydaddy)

Danger: we're entering another obsessive idiosyncratic favourite of mine. There's Never Been a Crowd Like This took me years to warm up to, as I remember borrowing it from a good friend my freshman year of University and not liking it at all. I checked it out because it was on Flydaddy, of course. Flydaddy ends up being an odd label in the history of it all (for me). It's a mid-sized indie that I suspect was a bit overfunded at times and certainly overreached (they were somehow involved in the V2 partnership with Virgin, and this is the Japanese edition of the CD, which means they were making separate editions for Japan). They also came about in that weird time where compact discs were still commercially feasible. We didn't have downloads yet and 1996 was that interesting turning point, post-grunge, where independent labels frequently flirted with bigger distribution partnerships and often blurred the lines of what 'independent' means. Flydaddy would be just another forgotten indie label, sinking into the blur along with Grass and Frontier and Alias, except they released a few cornerstones of my musical taste: Olivia Tremor Control, Number One Cup, and the Moles/Richard Davies. Even in 2012 I listen to these records repeatedly, more times than I would normally admit. Though as I was saying before, I came late to Davies. It wasn't until I had already moved out of the US that I discovered his greatness in retrospect. And a huge portion of that would be 'Transcontinental', the opening jam here. To say this is Richard Davies' finest accomplishment is not enough - nor is it a definitive answer, because 'Cars for Kings Cross' and 'Instinct' give it a run for its money. But I digress. 'Transcontinental' is much more than a great song - it's a world of mystery, a self-reflexive circuitous pop anti-classic, rooted in autobiography and infused with Wallace Stevens-like levels of obtuse affect. I've listened to it hundreds of times, and continually try to unravel it, even though there's nothing to unravel. Start here. Move through the album, which can be easily dismissed as a pedestrian 90's indie guitar-pop album, all the songs sounding somewhat similar (which was surely my dismissal of it back in '97). This is power pop, though not so powerful; Davies isn't interested in being brash and confident with his melodies. He doesn't always show his hand, and has a strong sense of the whole over the details. But the details are rich! There's a few confident, strident 4/4 stompers, except without any aggression behind them, making it an orchestral-pop horizon pretty similar to the best Cardinal songs ('Topple Into My Fantasy', 'Sign Up Maybe for Being'). And then some fragmentary, open sketches, like 'Hard River', which become more beautiful with each listen. And then we have 'Chips Rafferty', apparently a paen to an obscure Australian character actor, but not. It's something else, and I want to explain it, but where can we go? Davies falls into the category of songwriter who perfectly balances the line between accessible and difficult; he dangles me just enough of a line to hang onto something, which makes me want to draw my own portraits. Pure modernism, perhaps, or maybe songwriters like he (and Dan Bejar, and early Pavement too) appeal the most to people who want to create their own worlds. Thus, I connect with the beauty of subtlety; the expression is more gestural. The romance is between the words, but structurally dependent on them, being bordered by language. As I mentioned, this is the Japanese edition which has a slew of bonus tracks, which is why I spent years looking for it on eBay. There are demo versions of 'Transcontinental', 'Topple into my Fantasy' and 'Chips Rafferty' ('Topple' being striking for it's starkness and space -- I think the emergence of song from demo to studio recording is always interesting but more fascinating here). And then four live songs from the Richard Davies band, or maybe the Moles - 'Bury Me Happy' and two songs from Instinct, including the aforementioned 'Cars For Kings Cross' which still burns bright in the live version. 'If You Believe in Christmas Trees', one of the best Cardinal songs, ends it all, in a fairly aggressive version that makes me wish I had seen this band. I look back here and I haven't actually said much about what is so great about There's Never Been A Crowd Like This, but I guess that's for you to discover.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Moniek Darge - 'Soundies' (Kye)

Sound art or music?  It's an eternal dilemma; I have vacillated between positions myself, it's certainly easy to group Darge's work into the 'sound art' category.  Especially when presented as Soundies is, a compilation subtitled "selected work 1980-2001", with a list of which sources each recording is culled from. But I want to treat this as music.  If there is a difference, to me, it's in expression and intent.  Darge certainly is interested in the pleasures of listening, but I feel there's a lot of life in the little spaces of this CD. It's an array of fun, including voice, clarinet, violin, "musical objects", harp samples, slides, and "performance"; the resulting tracks vary but all maintain a strong emphasis on detail.  The longest track is the opening, from 1980, 'Sand'; it takes it's time to develop, suggesting the anti-music structures of Anton Bruhin in places, but is not bogged down by it's own conceptualism. As her work progresses (with a 12 year gap between 1983's 'Fairy Tale', my personal favourite, and 1995's 'Harpje', my second favourite track) Darge seems to be more interested in how things layer.  There's a soundscape feel to her late 90's work, partcularly 'Caete' which drapes wind and sea waves over clusters of small sounds. Darge's pieces feel organic and not too carefully meticulous, which keeps them closer to the underground than to the museum, always a good thing. The vocal work is inspiring at times, sometimes leading the pieces into a narrative feel. Her editing style is not as simple as saying 'cut-up', but there's a discordance and motion that always orbits around direction. It's a long disc, as a good archival release should be, and is understandably more varied than her Sounds of Sacred Places recordings, which are beautiful in their own way. I never seem to get tired of music like this, which draws from my own interest in abstract/surrealist sounds - and of course, the unending influence of the NWW list in my life. Darge is too late for that list but clearly comes from similar mental space.