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.