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21 February 2017

Harangue (Wilder Pryor/Enamel)

I have always loved the verb 'harangue' and it's delightful to find a band taking their name, and from my hometown as well! This was released a few years after I left town and I don't know any of the band members, but the bigger surprise is this sound - a real departure from Pittsburgh's usual emphasis on heavy rock riffs and volume. Though Harangue is loud, exploding with a somewhat raw recording that has an edge of fuzz on everything, which is to say the vocals, drums, piano and electric guitar. But what's different about it is the style of songwriting - five long songs, built around a very stylised singing style and the interplay of the piano and the guitar. The vocalist sings in a way that is nearly yelping, but still tuneful and focused. The closest comparison would be the Canadian band Frog Eyes, who I like a lot but have no records by; Harangue's vocalist has the same slightly crazed sonority and affect, and I could even say I hear a little bit of Jello Biafra in here too. It all really gels; opening cut 'Wisteria' is like knives in the darkness, and the speedy jam at the end of 'Brittle, Empty Mornig' shows what a tight musical unit they are. When cymbals start crashing it definitely gets messy and feels like you're in a basement with a determined group of young men; there are atmospheric guitar scrapes in places (the spacious bits, like 'Whitewashed Wall') and instead of solos or instrumental interludes, it feels like the whole band works together trying to take the songs into different directions. They get long - 'Uniformly Chaotic' is positively epic in scope - but it never feels samey or repetitive. Yet after the record ends, there's still a ringing in my ears. It seems like they've disappeared already, leaving only this, a limited local release and who knows what they went on to be. 

18 February 2017

Kip Hanrahan ‎– 'Coup De Tête' (American Clavé)

Coup De Tête is an odd one, and a record eclipsed by its followup, Desire Develops an Edge, if only because the latter got mentioned in The Wire magazine's list of '100 Records That Set the World on Fire'. It's hard to imagine anything about this setting the world on fire, though it's a hell of an interesting stab at bringing together a bunch of avant-leaning New York musicians and trying to create a new kind of fusion. Percussion is the main game here, with most tracks being built around Hanrahan and two or three other musicians on bongos, congas, and iya (plus Anton Fier usualy on trap drums). Both sides end with a drum-free cover version - Marguerite Duras' 'India Song' on side 1 (sung by a throaty Carla Bley) and Teo Macero's 'Heart on My Sleeve' to end the whole album (with Macero himself as guest). While listening to this you have to read the liner notes to follow who plays on what, as there's a bunch of big names almost hidden. Guitar duties are mostly Arto Lindsay but Fred Frith makes an appearance; their gutsy attacks are mixed quite low, almost inperceptible at times, underneath the percussion, but I think that was the right decision. Hanrahan is the wild card - when he sings, it's more like an earnest spoken-word chant, and as the record goes on he starts to disappear from it. He's really the producer, composer and Svengali here, more than he is an active musician, and some of the best tracks don't feature him at all. The standout is 'This Night Comes Out of Both of Us', featuring Lisa Herman (last heard on Kew. Rhone) and Bill Laswell's usual weird dub farts; somehow the percussion layers make this into a really dark, crisp, electric forest which sounds completely striking today, 36 years later. Herman's vocals are breathy and mysterious, getting into sexually explicit lyrics in 'A Lover Divides Time (To Hear How It Sounds)'. I've always really liked this record because it's a weird oddball - it feels like an environment where Hanrahan gave just enough structure to let the musicians really explore while sticking to a vision. It feels like a weird take on the idea of 'world music' while also having traces of rock and a lot of jazz but somehow not sounding like any of the above, which I guess is the best thing one could hope for from the idea of 'fusion' anyway. I don't think there's a lot of people repping Kip Hanrahan records in 2017 which means you can probably find them fairly cheap (if at all) and this and the follow-up are certainly worth your time -a rare case of a supergroup that works.

Hampton Grease Band - 'Music to Eat' (Columbia)

You probably thought the last Gunter Hampel record was responsible for the months-long bottleneck here at the Underbite (if you thought anything at all) but no, that was written and just not posted for some reason, ages ago. It's the Hampton Grease Band that's kept this from going forward, and I'm not quite sure why. Music to Eat lies somewhere between 'funny thing to play people at parties' and 'something I genuinely love', but I vacillate between the two states, so maybe this is Schroedinger's LP. This is truly one of the stupidest bands to ever get a major label release, and I include the Barenaked Ladies and Green Jellö in that list. But the Hamptons fit into some sort of vision I have about late 60s/early 70s freak music, even if the music isn't particularly visionary. I love the whole lore around this band - that it was somewhere between prog-leaning bar rock and and dadist art experiment, that members of the band would invite their friends up on stage to eat breakfast in their bathrobes during live gigs, and that the drawing of the military tank on the back cover is because they forgot to send any artwork for the back cover and it was just a drawing one of the band members had lying around. But the music is a pretty intense jam. I've worn out side 1, 'Halifax', where the band teaches us all about that Canadian city and establishes their formula: jammy blues-rock, occasionally prog-leaning, and with random nonsense sung over top. Bruce Hampton's pipes are great though, a regular Robert Plant, and his cry of 'Wouldn't you like to come to Halifax?" is an all-time great album opener. Fifteen minute later they are still at it, and there are passages of this song that are totally great. The fast boogie guitar solo about halfway through sounds a bit like the Italian prog band Area if you're reaching, and I think I just always wished this band was just a tad more in the cosmic direction. But 'Halifax' and 'Herndon' (side 4) are perfect, glorious kitchen sink rock jams, embracing the absurdity of the era and probably deconstructing something at the same time. 'Maria' opens side 2, with a much more overtly novelty-learning song, drenched in sexuality and coming off as the alpha-rock counterpoint to the Holy Modal Rounders' 'Griselda', though I think this predates it. And then it goes on and on through a variety of shorter songs, and it's a maddening experience. The sheer ambition and lack of editing here are remarkable but it becomes quickly impossible to sort out the diversions and jams. The resulting mess is a bit too close to Zappa/Mothers from the same era for my tastes, though I'd by lying if I didn't admit the teenage me loved 'Billy the Mountain'. Anyway, there's a LOT of Music to Eat, and side two starts to wear out its welcome. Side three is mostly dominated by the 18 minute suite 'Evans', but there's still room for another nearly 8 minutes of 'Lawton'. Jesus Christ, is this record long. I swear I have triple LPs that feel shorter - Armand Schaubroeck's first one, for example, or that Daphne Oram set. But the endurance test is part of the charm, if ya feel it; the Hampton Grease Band, if anything, are underrated. 'Evans' feels like a blizzard of guitar solos but then the track that follows it up, 'Lawton', is probably the musically most interesting part of the record - a dark, jammy psych instrumental that sounds like the Davis Redford Triad or some murky space-rock outfit from the late 90s, only this is '71. It all builds up to 'Herndon', where Hampton sings the label from a can of spray paint, before it segues into more nonsense. It becomes increasingly hard to pay attention by the end of this record, after one has been listening to it basically all night long. The fortitude is astounding for both self and the artists themselves. Discogs shows some odd post-Hampton Grease Band paths for them. One guitarist put out a solo 7" years later on Hib-Tone, the label famous for releasing R.E.M.'s 'Radio Free Europe' single; another played with Henry Kaiser in a band called Obsequious Cheesecake. As for Colonel Bruce Hampton himself, he seems to have enjoyed quite a long career in various projects I've never heard. This is the infamous record, and maybe part of its infamy is that it's not a slam-dunk - it's no Trout Mask Replica, but it really has some pretty good parts. I feel like I've written this much about Music to Eat now and come nowhere closer to solving my 'is it actually good or is it a party record?' dilemma. But obviously I don't throw parties anymore, anyway.

17 February 2017

Gunter Hampel and his Galaxie Dream Band - 'Broadway/Folksong' (Birth/Jubilee Edition)

Hampel had a productive summer in 1972; several of these 'Jubilee Editions' are recording sessions from that time, spent in New York obviously in collaboration with many American musicians. This is recorded in July, two months after Angel, and in a studio this time. It's mostly a different cast though John Shea and Jeanne Lee are still present, and there's no drumming this time. The compositions are more strongly felt - this is a heavily melodic album, built around plucked and bowed strings. 'Folksong' with flute and violin together, teasing each other towards a theme before the other musicians creep in. It finds a form, a circular, rolling melody, not extremely 'folk'-based to these ears but meant obviously as people's music. 'Broadway' is the main piece, split over two sides, which works in several movements of variously tight compositional form. There's two bassist, a cellist and violin to support the flutter treble core of Hampel & Lee. There's a feeling of Tin Pan Alley, with the basses working to keep the rhythmic centre, and I suppose the title comes from this throwback feeling. This isn't 'Oklahoma!' but unmistakably tied to jazz's past era, with bouncy swing moments and call and response themes coming and going. Just after side two starts, it shifts to the most formal melody yet heard on these Hampel records, and Lee is a delight here, whisking over it all like a tiny hummingbird trying to feed. 

18 October 2016

Gunter Hampel and his Galaxie Dream Band - 'Angel' (Birth/Jubilee Edition)

The 'classic' Gunter Hampel record is the first one, The 8th of July 1969, being a recording from just that day which merges the American and continental European approaches to free music of the time, with Anthony Braxton and Jeanne Lee meeting Willem Breuker and Arjen Gorter, among others. But his catalog beyond that record is worth a dip, especially if you can come across these 'Jubilee Edition' releases, reissuing some recordings from the early 70s at what was then a discount price. And also if you like vibes. Angel finds Hampel and Jeanne Lee working together again, with a young Daniel Carter on saxes and Enrico Rava, plus a few less known names (I thought bassist John Shea sounded familiar until I realised I was thinking of former Manchester United defender John O'Shea). This is recorded live on WKCR in New York, 1972, and thus has that raw, slightly scratchy sound associated with radio recordings - the energy of the live audience can't be felt, though I guess the energy of potentially millions of listeners could replace it, in a virtual sense. These guys were certainly up to the task, opening with a fluttery collection of wind instruments (there's five musicians here blowing into things, plus Lee's voice, Paul Bouillet's guitar, the aforementioned Shea, and Murugar's percussion hanging it all together on a wire frame). No one takes front and centre, until the middle of side one when the guitar chords have a 70s waka-chika sound and Carter's tenor repeats a three note theme over which everyone else goes wild, circling and circling and never quite coming to a test. Things evolve collectively, the digging of heels gradually lightening and a dare I say 'swing' feel coming in. Hampel switches to his vibes and makes a nice off-kilter groove with the rhythm section, though Murugar is fluttering about on the toms and making the rhythm felt through the absence of a strong drum pattern. It's masterful, and it's slightly sneaky the way it creeps out of the angry birds at the beginning. Side two continues, veering back and forth from open, quick jabs of winds and more fluid passages. It's all held together by Hampel's compositional sense, which is just there enough to be felt while allowing these musicians the full spectrum of expression. I'm not always sure who is who (Rava's trumpet is largely underrepresented) but as the Galaxie Dream Band, it definitely congeals into a band form.

15 October 2016

hamaYôko ‎– 'Shasô -Train Window-' (Entr'acte)

Not really sure about this one - I think this was a promo that I never did anything with, or maybe someone sent it to me looking for a show. Thanks to it's generic white sleeve I never notice it, and it's likely lurked on this shelf back since 2009 when (according to the discogs authority) it was released. hamaYôko is the pseudonym of a Japanese sound artist and choreographer and this is a 45rpm EP of pieces I suppose are inspired by train windows. It contains semi-melodic electronic compositions (with spurting, extremely digital processing around warm sine waves), singing wordless female singing, and field recordings from around the world (dutifully credited in the liner notes). 'Akai Pool' is loaded with splashing water, mixed high above the rolling composition and sounding a bit like two recordings smashed together. 'Icewater's March' has some sampled tuba, and throughout you hear children's voices, because of course you do. I don't want to be too hard on this, but this record illustrates the difficulty in adeptly, not clumsily employing field recordings or musique concrete techniques. There's not much nuance here in terms of how the parts fit together, and it doesn't feel like there's any sort of 'vision' here beyond the discovery of computer-based editing and a curiosity about the world of overheard sound. Some tracks have a rhythmic momentum behind them ('Headeck' is almost a strange pop song, and probably the high point of the record, where it has that feel of things being pulled apart, yet still held together) but others seem to be potpourri-blends of recordings, without a sense of what it's actually trying to express. Or it could be that my white male Western ears are approaching this from my own biases, because of course I am, and if I was able to open up to the worldview of ms. hamaYôko then I might be more forgiving. But I'll take my field recording-based music more minimal than this (my own collaborations excepted, of course) and put this one on the sell pile.

Hair Police - 'Prescribed Burning' (Hospital Productions)

The cover of this is stark and minimal, and the inside of the rough cardboard is screened with a pattern that makes it almost the inverse of Obedience Cuts. On the first half, Hair Police is far away from the active machinations of Obedience - it's rather 'mellow', though that's probably not the correct word to use when describing music this dark and desolate. Prescribed Burning could work as a horror film soundtrack, except it's tonality is so low-key and it's accents come from processed, reverb-laden sounds of indeterminate origin (really, it's not even clear what is electronic here and what comes from acoustic or human sources) that I would imagine it would make any such film a distraction. And there's not necessarily a horror lurking here, just unease and confusion. The two lengthy pieces that start side 1 (untitled, as are all of them here) are spacious, with clanking sounds and drones ebbing and flowing. The third, a short track to lead into side two's more aggressive start, feels like something incidental that was scrapped from other material. If you listen closely, especially on the second track, you'll hear some backwards-processed sounds, suggesting this was more of a studio work than it may sound like upon first listen. Side two then explodes, at least relatively, with churning, grinding distorted sounds, beacons of higher pitched feedback, and the feeling of forces pulling themselves apart. It's closer to the 'Hair Police' sound, though it doesn't feel like the deconstructed "band" they do when appearing live, and it's not completely clear if all three members are actively involved in this. But kudos to Hair Police for not painting themselves into a corner, especially during this time, the peak of their self-described 'gnarly times'. Yeah, that infamous t-shirt they made became their unofficial slogan, written across the two sides here in the run-out grooves, and perfectly encapsulating the Bush/Cheney/Iraq/post-9-11 years in America better than any other two words could. I said before how the decline in output from this American noise underground was more likely an incorrect perception I hold based on my own waning interest/involvement, but I also tie it to the political changes in America - not that Obama's election in 2008 ushered in a progressive era, not by any means - but certainly the mindset changed in some way. And before y'all comment on how ridiculous this is, I'm not saying that noise music changed because of Obama, but that the music created during the Bush years reflected feelings of frustration, anger and hopelessness (at least to me) while never quite embracing nihilism or self-destruction, and one can connect this to a general cultural zeitgeist in a way that enhances the interpretation of such music via context, etc. None of which is really relevant to describing side two of Prescribed Burning, which apart from the first cut stays in the sparse groove of side one - not necessarily gentle, but spacious, with start-stop rhythm, the momentum being a lurching crawl. Not many distinct vocals are audible here - by this point it seems like Mike Connelly was using his voice purely as instrument so it's going to be processed beyond recognition (though some deeper, guttural growls are evident). I still hold onto this connection to free jazz - that Hair Police are in some strange way a jazz group - and think this would be like Marion Brown's Afternoon of a Georgia Faun side one if it were transposed to this time and place.

Hair Police - 'Blind Kingdom' (Ultra Eczema)

We only get one side here, but it's a doozy, 16 minutes of Hair Police creating another (I assume improvised) sound-based hellscape. This one starts slow, and finished slow, but uses the space to have screeching, maniacal vocals which sound more like highly compressed feedback, all manner of clanging, echo-laden percussion, and synthesisers galore. The opening moments set the tone with some bold synth notes and some of the most clear filter sweeps (or phasing, or whatever that effect is called) yet heard in the Hair Police oeuvre. At points the low end cuts out entirely and shrill oscillations fill the whole soundstage, waiting for the sludgy, static-laden undercurrent to rise back up to meet it. There's some pretty great interplay here, and not just three noiseniks playing on top of each other without listening. The electronic processing is more conventional compared to the earlier material's sound of circuit-bent toys, but this benefits the analog synth waves which rise up like the phallic urge depicted on Dennis Tyfus's cover art. Side two is all etchings and I suspect if I tried to play it, it might still sound like Hair Police.

Hair Police - 'Constantly Terrified' (Troubleman Unlimited)

A year later from Obedience Cuts and it's clear that Hair Police have definitely 'progressed' as a band, but describing exactly how can be a challenge. But why else do this if not to challenge myself, to attempt to articulate music into words, futile as it may be? Constantly Terrified is four long cuts, beginning with a low rattling and slowly building into the full-on assault of 'Rattler's Echo'. This is like one of those great free jazz sides from the 70s recorded live, where a group builds to a total interplay of free expression, except here the aesthetic is much more a white/basement/scuzz one. But that's not a massive depature from the world of ESP Records circa '68 - Trevor Tremaine's drumming is not unlike that of Sunny Murray, and if you replace saxes with homemade/hacked electronics, this really could be a bizarro, hung over Globe Unity recording. Connelly's voice is yelping and shrieking and everything seems so violent, yet cohesive. And then it fades out and we get 'The Haunting', where slowly bending tones make a warped bed for the buzzing, scraping and hiss to interact on. The drumming is fake primitive, lots of floor tom and stickwork, and the processed vocals (I guess?) give this a really nasty, sick edge which suits the cover art's portrayal of fear and helplessness. It suddenly ends, in a locked groove of bassy rumbling which mirrors the low rattling at the start of the side. On the flip, 'My Skull is My Face' is built around a monotonous rhythm, with echoing drones (so beautiful they could be taken from a new age record if not juxtaposed with such teethy bile) and more vocal caterwauling. And the title track closes it out, which is an experiment in stasis - a holding pattern which nonetheless has a great diversity of sounds within it's edges, but never giving into the clichés of dynamics. It's here that maybe Hair Police have set their M.O - that is to be 'Constantly Terrified', where the monotony and feeling of being trapped reigns supreme. Overall it's an utterly unpleasant LP, but that was the idea, and it's executed marvelously.

11 October 2016

Hair Police - 'Obedience Cuts' (Gods of Tundra)

This is Hair Police's second full-length album but the first where they really found their footing, and it's enjoyable to revisit it after so many years. 'Let's See Who's Here and Who's Not' explodes immediately into a lurching, violent chaos, and it's home-recorded at just the perfect fidelity. A lot of warm, thick electronics blanket the sound - what I'm struck by on the first side is just how incredibly warm this sounds, which isn't all attributable to the vinyl version specifically but Hair Police's preferred frequencies (lows and low-mids). Trevor Tremaine's drumming is sometimes overwhelmed by it, and you can hear his cymbals and snare flailing about, cutting through the mix now and then, and he's content to pull back (or maybe he contributes some other role to the mix). The aesthetic is dark, as the puke-green ink on the cover hints, and unpleasant, but there's a life in this music that finds itself during the quieter moments. The title track is one such place, where the sturm-und-drang pulls back and lets the oscillations take over. This sound-soup is where I most enjoy Hair Police - there's a real subtlety to their interactions, a tension that swells and never releases in the way you'd expect from a regular 'band' vibe. 'The Empty Socket' on side two almost approaches the Dead C's 'Now I Fall' before it tumbles down the hill; 'Bee Scrape' likewise ends up in a rolling ball of noise, but one that has synths slicing through like a ninja throwing star. Robert Beatty might steal the show on this record, but it's hard to tell where his noiseboxes end and Mike Connelly's feedback guitar begins; even the drums get heavily processed with echo on 'Full of Guts', and it gels really, really well. There's a few more Hair Police records coming up and it's funny now to revisit this music after what doesn't feel like such a long time, but was over a decade. The American 'noise' peaked in popularity a few years after this and then seemed to fade away, though I think this may be more a product of changing marketplaces (and my own interests shifting) rather than any sort of decline in output. Still, among all the hundreds of projects and bands that came to prominence in the following years, Hair Police somehow distinguished themselves against the rest, and with fresh ears and a spin of Obedience Cuts, it's easy to hear the reasons.

18 September 2016

Hair & Skin Trading Company - 'Psychedelische Musique' (Freek)

One of the great joys of this gradual and probably quixotic project to work through my vinyl accumulation in alphabetica order is the discovery of records that I didn't remember I owned, or didn't remember what they sounded like. Psychedelische Musique has been hiding here for years, spun only once or twice since I first purchased it, secondhand, back in 2001. 'An American comes to the UK to buy an American record?' said the shopowner with a sarcastic drawl (and you can guess which infamous shopowner it was, if I tell you said shop was located in Leicester) but I didn't let his intimidating aggressive nerdyness deter me - who gives a fuck where I'm from or where a record is from or where it's purchased? And anyway, this isn't an American record - both the band and the label are British, so I don't have any idea what the fuck he was going on about. It's strange I remember that exchange more than I remember the music. This was £8 well-spent, as I knew the moment I dropped the stylus and heard the ringing, pulsing electronic drones that open it (even if I subsequently forgot about them). This is pastiched together like a 90s version of The Faust Tapes, with a variety of, well, 'psychedelic music' techniques applied throughout. Side one has a long, slow spacious passage in the middle with some ominous clanging and echoing roomsound, like Labradford if they had an interest in backwards sounds. Other parts are thicker, and even with a bit of rock-hypnotism at play ('Tor' has lurching guitars, though not too high in the mix, and lazy-ass vocal intoning making it feel like a sketch, an Elephant 6 interstitial track gone rogue) and a generally dark (or at least uneasy) vibe throughout. Side two opens with a pounding heavy goth guitar jam, abruptly ending with a tape splice, as if they were suddenly channeling White Zombie but then changed their mind and left it on the record anyway as a joke. It feels a bit incongruous with the rest of the record, which assembles studio trickery, a post-This Heat soundworld, with the dark surrealism of Thunder Perfect Mind-era Nurse With Wound. There's not a lot of distinction between the organic and the electronic, and the swirling backwards sounds are well-applied. Maybe it's time to see what else they did or what they've done since.

11 August 2016

Charlie Haden - 'Liberation Music Orchestra' (Impulse!)

Maybe it's a safe pick, a consensus one for sure - when Mr. Haden passed two summers ago, most of the online obituaries referred specifically to this record as his masterwork, along with the early Ornette Coleman recordings, of course. I often cite this among my most treasured recordings in the entire 'jazz' sub-section of my vinyl accumulation, though (like fellow Impulse genre-bender The Black Saint and Sinner Lady by Mingus), 'jazz' isn't the right term to encapsulate all the ideas at play here. So much could go wrong here - a white guy working with predominantly black musicians (though arranged by a white lady), directly addressing political struggles during the same time that Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were radicalising their music. But Haden and Bley used the Spanish Civil War as their focal point, and somehow it gels in a way which survives the test of time and avoids musical-tourist trappings. Perhaps this was the Buena Vista Social Club of its day, but to me, there's a sense of adventure, and a unified feeling, a purity of vision, as well as a widening of musical possibilities. Bley's arrangements may be the secret ingredient but this is still driven by Haden's plucking -- bass is definitively the lead instrument here, and even on piano-driven segment such as 'War Prayers' or the choral elements, it clearly emanates out of his leadership. I found this record when an undergraduate, through Robert Wyatt's cover of 'Song for Che', and that song is still the most powerful to me - a warbling, fluid melody that spins around like a bead of water on glossy paper,  building through several dramatic peaks without giving in to melodrama. It's pure Haden for long stretches, and the melody (as dynamic as it is) stands up there with Ayler's 'Ghosts' for me as one of the most iconic compositions in so-called 'free' jazz. I don't mean to diminish the other players here: Gato's sax burns with its usual sizzling energy, not that it should be taken for granted; Don Cherry and Dewey Redman make this a proto-lineup of Old and New Dreams, where Coleman's vast shadow can be chucked aside.  Roswell Rudd is underrated here, as always, but trombonists are generally underrated, right? For all of the years I've spent exploring avant-garde/free jazz, the records I come back to the most are the ones which stand out against the skronky, blow-out-your-brains aesthetic so commonly associated with the genre. This record, the aforementioned Black Saint and Sinner Lady, Shepp's Blasé, Art Ensemble records, Escalator Over the Hill, Sun Ra's more doo-wop influenced pieces -- for someone who claims to love free jazz, my preferences are further away from the 'free' side of it, towards a little more compositional basis, or towards other genre-influences such as classical or folk. Liberation Music Orchestra is maybe as much about the idea, the image carried through by its cover - a ragtag-looking group of musicians united in an expression of solidarity for the underclasses, in a time when that still meant something, before the all-pervasive irony of postmodernism took over etcetera, etcetera. Of course, this ragtag bunch is made up of some of the most successful and well-respected musicians of their time, but that brick-wall cover photo still conveys something. It's like the free jazz version of the cover of the first Ramones album, maybe, but musically about as far away from that simplicity as possible. 

21 July 2016

Peter Gutteridge - 'Pure' (540)

And with this, we conclude the Gs. It's an oddball selection for the end of this underrated alphabetical segment, and an odd choice to have gotten a deluxe double-vinyl reissue. Originally released as a cassette on Xpressway way back in '89, the 540 label saw fit to give it a first-time vinyl pressing in 2013. I'm not complaining - Pure is a great collection of sketches, experiments and low-stakes hypnotica - but it feels a bit strange that during this wave of New Zealand greats getting issued in affordable (and more importantly, available) vinyl slices, that this was chosen. While other great material -- some would say 'greater' -- remains impossible to source (I'm thinking about Plagal fucking Grind, y'know). But I'm not trying to diminish Pure, in which the late Mr. Gutteridge steps away from the shadow of the Clean and the Great Unwashed and presents his own musical personality across 21 songs. I never listened to Snapper and I'm not so clear at picking out his own songwriting from the other voices in the Clean, but honestly, Pure offers little in the way of a singer-songwriter approach anyway. The majority of the tracks are instrumental, with thick, pulsing layers of electric guitar, organs, and shimmery keyboards. All the sounds come from the cheapo, Tall Dwarfs-esque approach, but the man extracted a wealth of diversity from the limited gear. The lo-fi recording helps and this feels almost odd to hear on vinyl (though welcome, thank you 540!). 'Planet Phrom' is the closest we get to the jangly feel of the Chills or Clean, as I expected from his background, and features Snapper's Christine Voice (whatta great name, eh?) helping with distant, echo-laden backing vocals. For the most part, the rest of the songs stay away from any twee, light sensation, the next closest being the lark of 'Having Fun', and the furthest away probably being the decidedly un-gentle 'Bomb' (where guest vocalist Bruce Mahalski intones a mostly-spoken vocal line over a casio beat with pulsing keyboards and a few theatrical glissandos). This isn't horror movie music or heavy metal or anything, but it's closer to the dour gloom I usually associate with the Xpressway label than one would expect from a musician of Gutteridge's lineage. Spread out over two LPs, Pure starts to feel like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by the thick instrumentals. If I were to reduce this to an 'X crossed with Y' analogy, I'd probably say it's like a cheap-ass Terry Riley meets Suicide vibe, which sounds pretty great, doesn't it? We're still filtering everything through the Flying Nun sunglasses of course, and maybe 540 was hoping that this would stand as the man's legacy rather than being a supporting player to the Kilgours or Martin Philips. I'm glad for it, and in some way it makes me think of the (equally underrated and obscure?) Jowe Head solo record, Pincer Movement, not so much in how it sounds but how it stands, in relation to the band which he is better known as a member of.