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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. 

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