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28 August 2009

Albert Ayler - 'Nuits de la Fondation Maeght vol. 1' (Shandar)

This is one of the prides of my collection, if I have to look at it as a collection (a habit I all-too-often slip into) -- a mint condition copy of the first ever release on the Shandar label, truly one of the greatest labels of all-time. And the discography page online claims that this recording is Albert Ayler's last ever concert. I don't know if that's true - if so, I'm a bit surprised that the music stays so close to the jazz idiom and away from the fusion rock of his last studio work -- but it's a lovely sounding document, with a very different band from what we heard last (which was four years prior). Cal Cobbs (here listed as Call Cobbs) plays piano and his presence is quite strong. His style of long, elliptical runs suggests that he is definitely the pianist heard on 'Angels', a track from the Live in Greenwich Village discs. Allen Blairman is a bit more rigid than either Sunny Murray or Beaver Harris but he infuses the longer tracks with a momentum that can almost be seen as nervousness. Who knows what was going through Albert's head at this point? He certainly has energy. 'Spirits' has him zigzagging all over the map, switching to soprano at points (I think). Cobbs pretty much sticks to a chordal progression underneath most of the quarter-hour we hear it, and those chords sound like they come from another piece. But by this point, Ayler's compositions have all blended into one another and since the titles are all so similar and repetitive it suggests that he's left us one giant body of work instead of a bunch of individual compositions. I think Ayler peaked around 66/67 with the band we heard on the last two releases - I'm a bit biased towards the violin but also it had a more unique character to it. The Blairman/Steve Tintweiss rhythm section here is more rooted in Sonny Rollins and post-bop styles, and while this gives Ayler a grounding it lacks the utter mindfuckery of the marching-band/Negro spritual style he was doing a few years earlier. I guess that's what is the most disappointing about Ayler's last recordings - not that he tapered in ability or vision, but the folk elements were gone (or at least buried, most likely digested and reassimilated into something else). That's not to say that Nuits de la Fondation Maeght isn't great - it's definitely a great great jazz record, but it's only an average Albert Ayler record. But even though Ayler left us so many documents of his work, it still wasn't enough. 'Holy Family' on side 2 sounds exuberant and joyful, but very much a jazz piece. I guess I miss a trumpet to bounce off Ayler's explorations, and the rhythm section really does hold things down a bit. 'Spirits Rejoice' at the end is a familiar theme made beautiful by Cobbs' twinkling, and it's played fairly straight here, a ballad that continually picks up and breathes life into itself just when it's at the point of expiration. And expiration for Albert's life was to come just a few months after this, so it's nearly impossible to listen to this without some profound feelings, looking to hear symptoms of his troubled life in this version of 'Spirits Rejoice'. I'm not sure that I can actually hear that on this record; in fact, it's the lack of pain on this record that is telltale, if anything.

27 August 2009

Albert Ayler - 'Lörrach/Paris 1966' (Hat)

There are bands and there are great bands and there are bands that literally shred everything that came before them and churn it into some new musical buttersoupmelée and marry that to the some incredible fifth dimensional soundwaves that simultaenously occupy all of time and space and whatever comes after. So here's the Underbite Hyperbolé in action again, because wasn't I saying such great things one or two mere posts ago about the classic Ayler/Peacock/Murray trio? Well yes, that's all well and fine and earthshattering in a certain way, but for me, the band from '66-67 with Don Ayler and Michael Sampson is the one that blows it all apart for me. When you drop the needle on 'Bells', side one track one from the 33rpm Lörrach platter, the air you breathe takes on a shiny new curved dimension and your bones literally throb with excitement and energy. Or at least mine do. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the strings because they give everything a very, I dunno, regal quality, like this is something truly triumphant and celebratory. Or maybe it's that it just took Albert a few more years to explode like this, and the synergy created by his brother is what allowed that to happen - I mean, it's not like Sunny Murray was ever holding anyone back -- but pure freedom isn't what I listen for in Albert Ayler's music. Or maybe it's got something to do with the fidelity of these live recordings - and of the Impulse! discs from Greenwich Village that come next on the CD blog. These recordings are so rich that every note can sing. The moments of utter cacophony are so clear and righteous that even the most conservative jazz listener would have to admit there's something magical there. And the craziest thing of all is that they're mono! (Or maybe that's exactly why). 'Our Prayer' is religious music that'll make anyone melt into a blubbering mess no matter how much you've tried to excommunicate yourself. The 45rpm Paris platter has two versions of 'Ghosts' on one side (though titled in the singular 'Ghost' here, certainly not a foreshadowing of the 1990 Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore vehicle) and even though we've heard this tune few times now we haven't even begun to get sick of it. Each one is different than the last; you could play 'Ghosts' a million times and never tire of finding ways to breathe life into it. The goofy military march at the end of the second version here is a good segue into side D's 'Holy Family', which occasionally breaks down into neoclassical madness with William Folwell and Sampson providing a thick bed of strings for Albert's suddenly aggressive vibrato to rage against. No one ever says that Don Ayler is a great trumpet player and that always gets my hackles up - sure, he lacks the technical ability and versatility of a Lester Bowie, but I don't believe that anyone ever clicked with Albert better. Blood is thicker than water I guess and there's a serious mindmeld that can only come from sharing DNA. You can try to do an analytical breakdown of why this music is so communicative (for example, the tempo slowdowns I think lend a hell of a lot of gravitas to it) but I think that picks apart the moment, which should just be experienced. Or maybe this leads to deification at the expensive of independent thought. If Ayler had lived and made competent-to-passable records into the 90s (like McCoy Tyner or somebody equivalent) would we still hear the magic and fire in this? I say yes, although I realise my own enthusiasm is furthering the myth a bit, but deservedly so if you ask me. The only real question for me is what's better - this record or the Greenwich Village discs? And does it even matter, because I'm lucky enough to be able to listen to both of them, any time I'd like.

Albert Ayler - 'Witches and Devils' (Arista)

The date shows that this was actually recorded before Spiritual Unity but I've always thought of it as later. 'Witches and Devils' begins with a very dark, slowly unfolding dirge with Norman Howard's brutally shrill trumpet fluttering around Ayler's painful tones. Its a phenomenal track, showing not just a great depth of spirit and character but also an incredible level of musical interplay. Earle Henderson and Henry Grimes are both playing bass on it though they keep clear of each other, and let Sunny Murray switch his focus at his own will. But like all of Ayler's greatest tunes, there's something to connect to - a very emotional, soulful piece that is still exploratory in an unflinching manner. 'Spirits' bears no resemblance to the track on Spiritual Unity, instead being a somewhat jaunty, upbeat number with Ayler busting into the higher register. Side 2's 'Holy Holy' continues this high/low dichotomy. At times Ayler drops into familiar melodies ('Ghosts') and Howard takes a pretty squawky, flutter solo that sounds like an eagle caught in a cement mixer. The rhythm is upbeat throughout the whole piece and the liner notes claim this is the same tune as 'The Wizard' though the presence of the trumpet and a different bass player make it unrecognizable to me. The solos are long but the musicians all feel when to occasionally slow it down and start a new movement, based around a strong, melodic gutpunch. 'Saints' is the closer, and it's a beauty - another sad, open, slow, reflective number but whereas 'Witches and Devils' had something focused about it, this is on the verge of falling apart. Ayler's melody is truly beautiful here, and Howard squawks around it over Henry Grimes' slow, walking bass. It's a bit too haphazard to really touch you but that's what I love about it. If I have one complaint about this record it's the recording quality, which puts the bass(es) quite low in the mix and takes away the power of Murray's drumming, which I imagine (if you were actually there) was always a pretty forceful, explosive thing to witness. But now that I think about it, Murray's drumming is underwheming (on a fidelity level) on most of these classic 60's free records. You can hear Al's vibrato expanding and contracting haphazardly, even within the same note; I've always loved that because it just throttles you - but I wonder if the saxerati at the time just saw it as sloppy playing.

25 August 2009

Albert Ayler Trio - 'Spiritual Unity' (ESP/Get Back)

Did you know that the symbol 'Y' predates recorded history and represents the rising spirit of man? You can also gleam from the back cover alone that we are entering the realm of spirits, wizards and ghosts. But this isn't some Druid-worshipping 20-sided die record, it's Spiritual Unity, notable for being the breakthrough Albert Ayler record, the first non-Esperanto release on the ESP label, and as invigorating of a statement of purpose as there ever existed in the spheres of jazz, folk, or primitive musics. I know I'm prone to hyperbole (as well as clichés) but it's not really an exaggeration to say that Albert Ayler changed music forever -- and with this record. If Albert Ayler had one tune that everyone knows it's 'Ghosts', and this is the definitive recording(s) of it. First we get the original variation at the beginning and the second variation at the end - the first is bold, brash and iconic and the second is a bit more stumbling and open. 'The Wizard' is no sloucher but it's 'Spirits' that is the real sleeper. I often get Ayler tunes confused because they all of these eerier melodies that come and go, plus they all have similar titles like 'Vibrations' and 'Spirits', etc. But when you listen to a lot of Ayler in a row, as I'm about to, it all starts to melt together into one massive floating body of work. There's still ups and downs from record to record - I mean, the trio here absolutely kills compared to the Danish dudes on My Name Is (no offense meant); however I've heard Spiritual Unity a zillion times while the weirdness on the last record I've only listened to maybe once or twice before, so I might be more likely to pull it out. In fact, I used to own an original copy of this on ESP that I found on the cheap but never listened to cause it was beat-up, instead going to this lovely 180g reissue for actual listening purposes. I have NO IDEA what happened to the ESP release; maybe it's my punishment for having two copies of something. I always say this is a record accumulation, not a collection; forgive me for straying from this philosophy. But back to the music -- there's many reasons why this record spat in the face of jazz. Murray's drumming is probably the first anyone ever heard anyone being that crazy, and that free. The beat is often just nonexistent - the pulse even flutters and skips - but it's still alive and propulsive. Gary Peacock is an unsung hero of free jazz - he is perfectly suited to play with Murray, for he's content to meander and knows exactly what to contribute. The tonal center of the music shifts continually, but still has more fucking soul than anything you ever heard on Coleman's Free Jazz or Tristano's forgotten 1940's improv dickery. And Ayler - I mean, it sounds like he's in another room sometimes, and it sounds like he's shoved the microphone up his tenor at other points. He blows like a frog's belly full of broken glass. These shards are violent but they come from him, straight in from his dirty Cleveland upbringing. This will be endlessly reissued til the end of time, until everyone owns a copy - at which point true spiritual unity will be attained.

Albert Ayler - 'My Name is Albert Ayler' (Fantasy)

Hey, is a promo copy of the first Albert Ayler record worth anything? Especially one with mislabeled sides -- in fact, I'm not even sure if I got the right record. I thought I was listening to side one but there were only two long tracks so I assumed it was actually side 2, meaning 'On Green Dolphin Street', a midtempo bump through a Caper & Washington number. The Danish backing band is more than competent; I want to hear some cold-weather inflections on the material but to be honest I'm probably just projecting that. Niels-Henning Orsted Petersen plays bass and he drops a bowed solo here but Albert lays low, showing his melodic sense. It's only on 'C.T.', the sole Ayler composition on the record (allegedly), that we get a taste of what is to come. I guess it's named after Cecil Taylor? Ayler's tone is a fairly radical departure from what we heard on the last track; the cutting vibrato is beginning to show and we get strange start-stop bursts and long periods of dropping out. When it accelerates into a bop pattern it sounds like Ayler is wandering out of the room, lost in his own thoughts - thoughts with occasional punchy interjections. But it never maintains enough momentum to really explode. A few spritual-cum-freejazz-cum-primitive shards get tossed out at the end - you know, the kinda lines that make it really sound like Albert fucking Ayler - but it plods to a rather anticlimatic end. This is the end of the record but the beginning of a new frontier in music, though since the wrong labels caused my to listen to this fucking thing inside-out, I have to perversely flip over to the real beginning. Except, I don't think the other side is right either. The liner notes say that this should all begin with a spoken introduction by Ayler, 'Introduction by Albert Ayler', but this side starts with a voiceless Johnny Carson-style warmup piece. There are four tracks listed but only two bands on each side. This side is supposedly lyrical stuff you'd expect from a debut record in 1965; 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and 'Summertime'. And while it begins that way, it quickly breaks down into the same exploratory, uneven momentum as I described 'C.T' (or what I thought was 'C.T.') above. There are some moments that are great - Ayler's reed occasionally closes up into a shrill drinking straw and Niels Bronsted provides enough piano haybales to keep it afloat. But is this a different record entirely? 'Summertime' is a fave standard of mine but I don't hear the familiar chord changes anywhere - could I have some weird, mutant Albert Ayler record instead? Unless he's deconstructing it beyond recognition, something that would surprise me since the liner notes describe his tone as 'gentle and caressing'. Whatever I have here, it's clearly true, as the liner notes say, that 'this present record shows Albert Ayler as one of the most original tenor saxophonists of the young generation'. But if this is truly a great important record - because I know it is - it certainly doesn't sound particularly urgent. But guess what comes next?

24 August 2009

Kevin Ayers - 'Collection' (See for Miles)

This is like watching the clip show at the end of a TV series; I've just listened to 5 and a half LPs of Kevin Ayers and now I gotta push through one more that is just a greatest hits compilation. I really, really do not need to own this. The only justification I can offer: I found this cheap; and it sat on my shelf for years while I filled in the others, and I kinda forgot about it. Since I don't (and won't) own any of his later records, side 2 of this can serve as an adequate best-of from the Sweet Deceiver -> That's What You Get Babe years. The first side, drawn from the last few records posted about here, is somewhat painful because they stick 'May I', which I am already sick of, back-to-back with 'Puis-je'. In the CD era this is more forgivable because of remote controls and automatic track indexing, but in my vinyl haze I would be forced to actually get up, turn on the light, and lift the stylus to avoid hearing the same song twice. Except this is Disolcated Underbite Spinal Alphabetised Encourager Templates, where we don't skip anything. 'Carribean Moon' is here and the single 'After the Show', and also 'Shouting in a Bucket Blues' which is on Bananamour, a record I also don't have. But those are three songs I can live without. Side two starts with two songs from Sweet Deceiver, a record that even the liner notes to this best-of collection disses ('the lowest trough of his career ... showing just bare hints of his usual musical force'). Really! If I'm going to be kind, 'City Waltz' has quite a few of those hints, and is probably (along with 'Strange Song') the highest trough of side 2. 'Blue' and 'Star' are guitarsolo-heavy ballads that are dragged down by their own weight and forced whimsicality. 'Blaming it all on Love' and 'Money, Money, Money' are so limp that I'd almost prefer the rum-soaked fake calypso sound. But I'm being harsh - the 8 songs on side two are probably the best bangs from those years, so I should just be thankful for what's not on here.

14 August 2009

Kevin Ayers - 'Odd Ditties' (Harvest)

These ditties aren't that odd, but they didn't make it to any previously released albums. Yeah, this is the singles and b-sides collection that you never wanted from Kevin Ayers, though the first side is good-to-great, being mostly singles and outtakes from the Joy of a Toy/Shooting at the Moon era. The French version of 'May I' is here, though I'm starting to get pretty sick of hearing that song. 'Gemini Child' and 'Butterfly Dance' are the highlights here, though the opening track 'Soon Soon Soon' (an abandoned single) makes a strong case with it's Nazz-like fuzz bass. Nowadays all these tracks would end up as CD bonus tracks so it's kind of weird hearing them together. Side two takes a dip in quality, beginning with a sappy faux-French duet with Bridget St. John and then presenting a slow, orchestrated version of 'Lady Rachel'. Then we dive into a shitty whirlwind of reggae-pop. There's a reason I don't own Bananamour; these songs, with Ayers singing in a fake Jamaican accent, are musical Kryptonite. The whimsical 'Don't Sing no more Sad Songs' picks things up slightly but then we get 'Take me to Tahiti' (which causes my response "and leave him there, please") and the closing single 'Caribbean Moon'. These things are always a bit hit-and-miss and here the hits are relatively clustered together, so I can just stick to side one if I ever actually listen to this again.

Kevin Ayers / John Cale / Eno / Nico - 'June 1, 1974' (Island)

I think this is actually one of the most overrated live albums ever, and I wouldn't own it except I found it for $2 somewhere and John Cale's 'Heartbreak Hotel' is pretty great. Actually the Eno songs are cool too, starting out with 'Driving Me Backwards' which is a wonderful and perverse choice to start an album with, though I would never reach for this when Here Come the Warm Jets is just a few shelves down. The four artists here don't really do a whole lot with each other and the record is dominated by Ayers whose renditions are somewhat lackluster. But as I mentioned, 'Heartbreak Hotel' is pretty killer-- and it was performed because the night before the show (May 31, 1974), Ayers banged Mrs. John Cale. Of course, the liner notes don't say anything about this, but it's sure in the performance. Some wasted dude named Rabbit plays organ on almost every track and I'd like to know what happened to him. Robert Wyatt also fails to liven things up. But maybe I'm just being a bit negative because I'm starting to get sick of Kevin Ayers by this point. Nico supposedly performed 'Janitor of Lunacy', but it was cut in favor of the Doors cover 'The End'. I used to think her studio version of this was super intense but now I'm not sure that I can ever bear to sit through it again. (Well, I'll have to when I get to the N's). Maybe this just isn't the night for me.

13 August 2009

Kevin Ayers - 'The Confessions of Dr. Dream' (Island)

This is the definition of uneven. Pushing his tendencies to their extremes, Kev lays down some of the darkest and most twisted excursions of his career on the title track but also some of quite banal funk-rock. This record is saturated with female backing vocals, on almost every track; Lol Coxhill and Mike Oldfield turn up too, though it barely resembles the work of the Whole World. Side one is almost a total writeoff. "Day by Day" is tough to make it through, though it does make me think about why I've come to equate that sound with 'bad' music. It's not inherently any worse than half the other rock on my shelves, but I've just come to hold aesthetic biases. I guess the campy genre-hopping is less than convincing for me - Ayers' exaggerated Britishness on 'Ballbearing Blues' makes it sound like a Monty Python skit. But yeah, the title track, which fills most of side 2 in four parts -- definitely it makes this record a keeper. Hypnotic, circular guitar patterns, gurgling ARP synths and some crazy gothic freakouts put this in the Aphrodite's Child camp. There's smoother parts but they're no less exploratory - the whole thing has a compositional cohesiveness that would make a Gong member jealous. If you tacked this suite onto a CD reissue of Shooting at the Moon, you'd make a strong case for Kevin Ayers as one of psychedelic music's greatest practitioners. Instead it's a relatively forgotten album that can be found on the cheap - I know I only paid $3 for it. This was probably the first Kevin Ayers record I heard, actually, when I was just getting into the Soft Machine. Clearly it was the gateway drug that led me to buying six others, though I always forget about this one.

Kevin Ayers - 'Whatevershebringswesing' (Harvest)

The third Kevin Ayers album leaves behind the outer excursions of the Whole World and goes the mainstream way (aka "way mainstream"). But there's something I really love about this album - it's genuinely dark, more reflective than his other stuff, and apart from the occasional burst of whimsy ('Oh My') it sounds like a real person in a way we haven't heard yet from K.A. I've always thought of these first 3 albums as a trilogy, though listening in sequence they are really quite different beasts. And Whatevershebringswesing opens with a trilogy of its own - 'There is Loving'/'Among Us'/'There is Loving'. The strings are thick, but not saccharine. It still has that strangely continental feel - maybe Kevin Ayers is pop music for the British expatriate in all of us -- but maybe he'd been listening to lots of Jacques Brel by this point. 'Song From the Bottom of a Well' is a grinding, dark song with Lee Ranaldo-style guitar solos; though Ayers is singing in an affected character voice I've always been pretty forgiving because the song takes monotony to the point of beauty. I think Ayers was genuinely a bit depressed during the making of this album, but he's trying to save face. I've always liked albums when the depression is genuine, like Big Star Third for example - the songs aren't all blatant doom 'n gloom like Joy Division or Shakespeare's Sister, but soaked with something real. Or maybe I am confusing depression with melancholy. Was it Stephen Wright who had some joke about "depression is merely anger without enthusiasm"? I don't know how that relates to 'Whatevershebringswesing' (the song) but there's some genuinely bluesy guitar playing and the chord changes are walking along some line, at least. 'Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes' is probably the biggest hit Ayers ever had, and though it's a nice bouncy tune he's certainly had better. A bit of 'Joy of a Toy' is mixed into 'Champange Cowboy Blues', a nice yet odd pastiche of postmodernism in a song which is otherwise memorable for its very porn guitar tone. The scary thing is we're not even halfway through the Kevin Ayers section of the Encourager Templates and the best stuff is all behind us now. So, hang on.

12 August 2009

Kevin Ayers and the Whole World - 'Shooting at the Moon' (Harvest)

I bought this on CD sometime in the late 90s when I was discovering this whole genre of "adventurous music from the early 1970s" (call it what you will); I later lent it to someone and never got it back, but was thrilled to 'upgrade' to the LP a few years later. I put 'upgrade' in single quotes because while I almost always consider a vinyl LP to be an upgrade over a CD, this particular LP is, well, beat to shit. And it sounds pretty rough. And this is a record where you want to hear the details. The Whole World are one of those bands that I think of in legendary terms, because this is the only recording (AFAIK) and it suggests a visionary, hard-to-believe force of power and innovation. Shooting at the Moon starts off pretty inauspiciously, with 'May I', a smooth folk-pop number that's straight off Joy of a Toy's whirlwind of casual. But soon they go into 'Rheinhardt and Geraldine', which is pretty rockin' but really goes apeshit at the end with some extended tape manipulation technique. It puts 'Revolution #9' to shame and actually gives Pierre Henry a run for his money; more than just manipulation for manipulation's sake, it has rhythm and colour and fits in with the vibe of the album. 'Pisser Dans un Violon' ends the side with a slow unraveling of free improv. In one side, the Whole World manges to weave together psychedelic folk, fusion rock, British free improv jazz and musique concrete -- and they do it as effortlessly as you'd expect from Mr. Ayers. Which I guess isn't too much to expect from a band containing Mike Oldfield AND Lol Coxhill (whose wonderful records we will get to sooner than later). Side two also opens with a tease, a fluffy folk number about a fish -- actually a nice duet with Bridget St. John -- before continuing the mood with the exploratory 'Underwater'. 'Clarence and Wonderland' and 'Red Green and You Blue' shows Kev up to his old tricks; the band holds back from their experimental impulses, and I think he's signing about fucking someone again. It all comes back around with 'Shooting at the Moon', one of the most menacing and (I think) underappreciated blasts of dark psych-rock ever. And, like all those great Ayers tunes on Soft Machine 1, it's catchy too! Maybe I'm overinflating this album a bit because it hit me hard in those formative years, but I think this is a fucking masterpiece. Or at least a really really really great record that is forward-thinking, accessible, and experimental at the same time -- without compromising the personality of its' creator.

Kevin Ayers - 'The Joy of a Toy' (Harvest)

Jesus H. Christ, but how did I end up owning seven Kevin Ayers records?? Sure, we'll have a blast with these first three, a trilogy to rank among the progpop greats -- but then somehow I have both Odd Ditties (his Incesticide) and some cheapo greatest hits collection that has the French version of 'May I?' (yes, 'Puis-je?'), neither of which I look forward to hearing again. So another gauntlet here; fair enough, let's take it easy cause that's surely Kevin's M.O. I've always loved the lackadaiscal summer melodies on this record, laid down effortlessly with the most charming, smirking approach. There's a real goofball feel to the instrumentation, with slide whistles, oboes and soft winds, but it doesn't feel over-orchestrated. Instead it's a nice day out in the park with a slightly mischievous, maybe not entirely-reliable longhair as your guide. And the darker tunes aren't exactly dark - maybe it's just a bit overcast, but I still feel like I'm strolling through an open-air market, squeezing various fruits to test for ripeness. We get lyrics for only two songs in the moldy gatefold - the hypnotic, creepy 'Lady Rachel' and the Beatles-quotin' 'Song for Insane Times'. But there's nothing really insane here beyond the variable tapespeed fuckery at the beginning of 'Stop This Train'. Maybe this is Kevin's big philosophical statement about life- just relax, smoke a doob, grope a boob. I've always associated Kevin Ayers' music with rampant oversexed free love, and this album artwork is creepy enough to suggest something far more perverted. And exactly which kind of toy are you talking about, buddy? Soft Machine alumni back him up and things really get cooking on 'Eleanor's Cake' with some head-bashing solos. Though this LP looks pretty clean, it crackles a bit - and I wouldn't be surprised if this copy spent a few hours soaked in beer on an ugly carpet in a smoky room at some point in the 1970s. I used to rock this one quite a bit, so maybe some of the surface wear is my own fault; each spin would reveal a nice new detail, such as the kazoo's interaction with Hawaiian guitar in 'Lady Rachel'. Nothing is hidden here; it all sits really well in the mix. I wonder what Ayers was going for here - total pop success? It certainly feels like an attempt. Take the first Soft Machine album's songwriting formula, simplify the cadences a bit, and strip out the long instrumental vamps. Even the 'weird instrumental', 'Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong' is pretty palatable, and it segues into 'All This Crazy Gift of Time', the straightest, folkiest statement of purpose that Ayers ever laid down. "All my blond and twilight dreams / All those strangled future schemes" -- fuck yeah! What strikes me about this record is how it appears to be such a straight arrow on first listen but slowly reveals itself to be a gradual curveball. Just like you can't see the Earth's curvature unless you're standing on a glacier or something. I don't think he ever found the commercial success due to his own hedonistic digressions and musically oddball urges, but this was a hell of an audacious start. Which makes our next listen even more interesting ....

Axolotl - 'Chemical Theatre' (Gipsy Sphinx)

Here's another record that works at 33 or 45rpm, but sounds better (to these ears) with a faster rotation. 'Chemical Theatre', the a-side, drops us into a soundform that's already well underway; it has that late 90's VHF 'tape splice' opening and a plate of minimal murk to accompany it. It grinds thick, so if that's how you like your gravy you'll find lots to enjoy here. But the B-side, 'Illiaster', is really where Axolotl shines. Another horizontal slab of sound, this redefined the idea of 'shimmering' into a vast new dimension. Dribbling, oscillating tones eventually start to bend into another dimension. The whole thing swerves on the verge of totally flipping around, warping almost around itself but holding on for the inevitable decay. All the sounds are generated by violin, electronics, and percussion; it manages to sound space-age and earthy at the same time. 'Illiaster' is probably gonna be relegated to a "minor" Axolotl track in his slowly accumulating discography which is a shame because it has a depth lacking in a lot of other psychedelic droneczar releases.

Axolotl/Mouthus - '12 25 04' (Olde English Spelling Bee)

One of the few recorded meetings of Karl Bauer and his good friends Mouthus, this was done on a Christmas Day in New York, half a decade ago, and one doesn't have to strain to hear cold, blustery winds and winter moods soaking through. But it's also got the feel of a cramped, busy New York rehearsal room, as the spacious drones on side 1 eventually contract into a swirling game of bumper cars on side 2. The rock part of Mouthus' free rock game is subdued; it sounds like Axolotl is leading the charge. The drones and atmospherics that open this up are slow, as if they're more concerned with setting a pace than displaying surprising textures. The color palette isn't monochrome, but maybe carefully chosen (making this cover art a good choice). Yet, it all converges towards the horizon. The murkyness eventually takes over, but the bubbly organ part on side 2 is everpresent, producing a nice reference point for the grinding dirge to define itself against. Motion is slow, but there. With a pair of headphones and some determination, I'm sure this could take me to a special place. But as casual office ambience it suffers, too easy to tune out unless played too loud to make anything else possible. Is this type of music really aggressive in the way it demands serious listening?

10 August 2009

Axemen - 'Big Cheap Motel' (Siltbreeze)

Just about every Kiwi noisenik has been in and out of this band at some point, but their available material has been scarce, at least outside of the NZ cassette scene from the early 80s. This vinyl reissue of one such tape, from '84, is quite welcome; it's done with minimal remastering and the properly lo-fi quality is saturated. I mean, this is when lo-fi meant lo-fi; cheap and warbly, but the guitars still know how to slice through things and the low end is surprisingly present as well. The live portions of this come from a concert where they wrote a set the night before to protest the milk company sponsoring the event for their sexist ads. The songs are as ramshackle as it gets, with drum set falling apart, bass farting in and out of time, sax glue and these little prickly guitar lines that skirt all over the place like a stone skipped on a frozen pond. The sloppy black and white graphics, plus the lyrics, suggest some crust-punk, Crass records kinda thing - and I think that spirit is here, cause it's certainly "punk" in some way. The band is all-male but just about every song attacks male attitudes head-on; there's not much subtlety in a song like 'The Pornographic Milk Drink' or 'Can't stand up for 40-inch busts' but I don't think I bought this record looking for subtlety. I can go back to the Au Pairs record from the other day for that -- but funny how the name Axemen suggests a big cleaving phallus? The avant-leaning tendencies of the Axemen come more from ineptitude than staying up all night studying MEV records; but there's also a freedom present, meaning that I don't think these guys had really tightly defined rules about what could and couldn't be done. And these days, that factor is more thrilling to me than whatever subcultural boundaries a certain record might skirt. The purpose of listening to this in 2009? I'm not sure that I can venture a proper guess; I guess great rabblerousing is timeless and this certainly tickles the alveoli. There are a few soaring, anthemic songs that get fairly melodic and recall the Clean's earliest and best work; Wikipedia says that Peter Gutteridge was a member once so maybe there was some cross-pollination at work, and it's a small island anyway.

9 August 2009

Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist - 'Hollindagain' (Saint Ives)

This live album must be taken from a soundboard recording or something because it sounds clear and crisp, with nary a hint of an audience's presence. Actually half of it comes from a radio station jam on WFMU which would explain that - way to read the liner notes *before* writing. Side 1 starts off with a chocolate milkshake, flanged and affected beyond any element of clarity, slowly coming to life and breaking off it's shackles. A repeating digital delay pulse develops that doesn't leave us for most of the first side of the record, giving the voices, toy buzzers and other misapplied percussion a dartboard to aim towards. This Deaken-less trio reveals a bit more of their hands in the 'raw' setting than future Scott Colburn productions will allow. Instead of the lush, warm sound that we've become accustomed to, it has a rainy-day sound of close-mic'd metal. I'm not clear where 'Forest Gospel' actually begins and ends, as it sounds like it's split over the two sides, but this casual feel is what's nice about this release- DIY! DIY! Years later this started selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, making me consider selling it many times, but I'm glad I held on. I don't reach for this (or anything by these guys, really) anymore and if I did it would probably be Danse Manatee, but it's nice to peer under the tarpaulin a bit.

2 August 2009

Au Pairs - 'Playing with a Different Sex' (Human)

Ah, the sweet sound of 1981. An affected British voice, sneering lyrics with something to say, so topical and so danceable a la fois. Hard bass guitar lines, bouncing around a tight, forward-driving beat and the guitars are the mood here. Scratching and clawing in the image of Andy Gill, they're mixed a bit low sometimes but the angles are there for inspection. And if Gang of Four built the lighthouse, the beam was shined on 'Anthrax' for lyrical content to further mine -- how else do we explain 'Love Song'? Gender roles are explored in almost every song, sometimes explicitly ('I'm your erotic profit / a bonus from the rock & roll situation', from 'Unfinished Business') and sometimes philosophically. It goes global on 'Armagh', a precog's song for Donald Rumsfeld to sing 25 years later. Extraordinary renditions aside, male-female relationships are the name of the game and this mixed-gendered band throws up rhythms and textures that rival anything else from the period. If there's some criticism it's that the polemics might distract a bit from the fun; the disco/soapbox dichotomy is taken to the extreme here, though to be honest, the tunes really rank up there with the best of the era. 'Headache' has atmospheric scrapes over a motorik groove, recalling A Certain Ratio's most interesting experiments; most of the album is fun enough to play alongside Pylon. And just enough pop hooks to drill into those corners of the brain.