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19 December 2010

The Chills - 'Submarine Bells' (Slash)

Promo copy, with slight water damage in the upper left hand corner. But I'm no collector, and only a mild Martin Phillips fan with a mere two actual Chills releases on my shelf. Interestingly, these two releases represent the two extremes of market reach in his career -- this, perhaps the most well-known Chills album (and their major label debut) -- and then Secret Box, a fanclub rarities triple CD that I never listened to all the way through. Submarine Bells isn't something I remember to listen to very often, as I'm guessing it's been about a decade. A shame too, because it's so undeniably pleasant, but with some introspective depth for those who want to dig. The melodies are gentle and singsong, never insanely hooky or quite as memorable as their early songs like 'Doledrums'. The only real awkward moment is 'Familiarity Breeds Contempt', a slightly sneering, edgy romp that sticks out against the soft keyboards, acoustic strum, and nicely layered (but not overdone) vocals of every other song. The 80s production style (which I can't articulate beyond saying it's a certain drum sound, and a certain sheen on the guitars) is rampant, but it works. Lyrically, Phillips is quite reflective - 'The Oncoming Day' tries to reconcile loss and look to the future. 'I SOAR' gets into explicit surrealism, perhaps drug-influenced, and reminds me of Neil Young in the process. 'Don't Be- Memory' is a more nostalgic take on loss, with a slight hint of melodrama creeping in. I love Kiwi pop music because it can wrap sadness in sweetness, in a nearly disarming way. Plus, the loose sketches, particular in things like Tall Dwarfs, are a real hallmark of the scene - here, the too-short 'Sweet Times' does it. The title track takes it out, in a sweet, keyboard-driven paen to the sea. The liner notes are loaded with information about nuclear testing and Greenpeace, which feels at odds to the personal nature of the record -- even 'Submarine Bells', immersed in its foamy lyrical matter, is about loss and love. Maybe they were just trying to maximize their major label impact. Hopefully it won't be another decade until the next spin, but at the rate this project is going, it probably will be.

14 December 2010

Cheveu (Born Bad)

There's strangely pixelated Apple ][ album art, strangely pixellated guitars and drum programming, yet there's nothing digital about this record. Instead we're bathed in analogue ambience, a hiss to envelop us into this soundworld. Cheveu was my favourite album of 2008, which explains why I've been collecting their singles (found on the Ebullient Ventilation page). You can divide most of Cheveu's songs into two categories - furious, frantic verbal diarrhea overtop a relentless guitar/drum attack, or a groove-based, fun jam based around an infectious and vaguely familiar guitar lick. A few of the standouts, like 'Superhero' combine the two forms. 'Jacob's Fight', side 1 track 1, should be all you need to hear to decide if Cheveu is gonna be your bag. 'Clara Venus', the one song recorded in a real studio, sounds no more hi-fi but perhaps a bit more passionate, as the band blasts out around some of Rimbaud's fine words. 'Happiness' also uses a borrowed text, this time from the Todd Solondz film of the same name, and the creepy, perverse language is cast in a goofball aesthetic, but a damn fine one. 'Lola Langusta' opens up side B with a rehash of the version found on one of the singles, but adorned with some trumpets to make it a DJ favourite. Is it thinking man's punk rock, or a punk rocker's dance music, or does it even matter? When I listen I'm filled with images of dirty Paris basements, illegal squats, and what I imagine is a theatrical live show. And I want to jack into an old 4-track and start bashing out my own tunes. This is music of frustration but not without careful attention to detail. 'Hot' has some nicely bending guitar notes as it fades into a rut, and throughout this I'm impressed by textures, textures, textures! Cheveu know how to make a guitar sound great, and they are often layering them and changing the textures on song breaks to liven up what could otherwise sound monotonous. The record jams out on the long 'Unemployment Blues', clearly a live, improvised recording that recalls Alternative TV's 'Alternatives'. A tribute or homage, maybe? It's the most psychedelic, though the delay-pedal vocal manipulations and whirring feedback loops are aggressively amateur, and the rhythm section holds things steady. Though youth oozes from every note of this record, there's a definite awareness of musical precedents, most notably fellow Frenchmen Metal Urbain. I like intense visions to be fun too, and this pulls it off with flying colours. Seek it out!

12 December 2010

The Cherry Blossoms (Apostasy / Black Velvet Fuckere / Breaking World/ Consanguineous / Hank the Herald Angel)

I suppose we should just thank heavens that this LP finally saw release, even if it took years of effort and the collaborative talents of FIVE different record labels. To anyone who has seen the Cherry Blossoms in person (I count myself among those lucky enough), then my frustration is inevitable. How can one capture the bohemian circus that is a Cherry Blossoms live show, using merely the technology of stereo microphones and audio mastering/reproduction? It must fail, not because the Cherry Blossoms are some sort of sonic experimentation that defies the LP format, but cause they are too rambunctious and multi-faceted to be reduced to a mere "band". I mean, they have a tap dancer! (whose contributions are audible here, I suppose, but really the kind of thing you see on the side of the stage while the rest of this messy melée unfolds). The twelve songs on this LP are pretty much the same recordings that have been kicking around forever, mostly live recordings of disappointing fidelity (particularly on 'A Love of My Own', where it's hard to believe they couldn't get a better quality recording). There's a lot of room echo, and while Peggy Snow's voice is still angelic, one must strain to hear the washboard, banjo, tambourines and who-knows-what-else in the margins. Because it's the margins that matter here. When I saw the Cherry Blossoms six years ago in a old Louisville church, I became convinced I was seeing the reincarnation of the Fugs. This was a true celebration of an American anti-current, with members spanning all ages and offerings that went beyond mere music. I was enthralled and entertained; this was the greatest band I've ever seen, and they could barley get through their own songs! Now, the album format removes the spectacle; that first time I saw them, they never really started a song as much as stumbled into it, the melodies and vocals emerging from a morass of fucking about, spontaneously read poetry, and concurrent conversations. Despite the inevitable disappointment of The Cherry Blossoms (or should I say the impossibility) -- I love this album. The only band members pictured on the sleeve are lead voices Peggy Snow and John Allingham, and their individual contributions showcase both of their songwriting styles. Snow's 'Mighty Misissippi' begins the record, showing her tendency for lyrical landscapes and beautifully unfolding melodies. Allingham's tunes are nervous, repetitive, and simplistic, delivered with the same wide-eyed passion he spouts in person. 'Rockin' Rocket Ship' and 'Rocks and Stones' are practically Jad Fair-like in their monotony, yet strangely compelling; by the time I saw them for the second time, after letting this album seep into my brain, I was so pumped up to hear 'Rocks and Stones' that I practically started moshing. Allingham, drummer Chris Davis, and other member Chuck (who doesn't appear to be credited here) moonlight as the utterly brilliant band the Arizona Drains, and you can hear the same stuck-in-a-loop logic in Allingham's Cherry Blossoms songs (the Internet uncovers little evidence to suggest that they still exist, which is tragic.) It's the few chances where Snow and Allingham combine songwriting talents that the Cherry Blossoms manage to create something transcendent, even despite the unsatisfying recording. 'Golden Windows' is a good time, 'Amazing Stars' moreso; but then, 'The Wind Did Blow' knocks it out of the park -- it is a spellbinding piece of magic, the Cherry Blossoms finest moment. Other highlights include a skiffle band cover version of BÖC's 'Godzilla' that is discordant and amusing (driven by kazoo, of course) and 'The Rising Tide', a chilling, beautiful coda. I have come to accept that this is all we'll ever get; I'll probably never again experience their madness -- their website hasn't been updated since 2001! So this is another great tragedy of American art, or maybe the furthest thing from a tragedy -- just a reminder that we don't need to document everything. I'm re-inspired just thinking about that first live show, an unforgettable ephemeral moment. And who knows, maybe something else will surface one day.

11 December 2010

Don Cherry (Horizon)

This is the tenth Don Cherry record discussed here, and sadly the last to feature in these pages. I list it as self-titled but it's been reissued as Brown Rice, so I tend to think of it as such myself. 'Brown Rice' is the opening track, a composition for three electric pianos, acoustic bass, drums, electric bongos, vocals and tenor sax. It's also one of the most singularly unique compositions heard thus far in this project. The graphic score is printed in the sleeve, which a fairly symmetrical structured pattern - pianos start, other instruments come in and disappear, and even Frank Lowe's washed out sax blasts are indicated. The melodies are very similar to the structures we've heard on the last five or so records, particularly where Cherry is on the piano. But here, it's made ecstatic with electricity, and a nice 70's cop-show waka-chika underneath it all. The whispered/chanted vocals are just over your shoulder, peering into your soul, and it's unsettling yet inviting. It's a piece that explodes with colour; an all-time classic for sure, it embraces of psychedelic electric fusion while distinguishing itself. 'Malkauns' is actually my favourite track on the record, a slow dirgy tune that begins with Charlie Haden playing bass over a tambura drone. Shades of 'Song for Che' of course, as there's the same thoughtful pauses, but it builds into a pitter-patter jam with Cherry-streaked trumpet lines over everything. This record feels like a very conscious return to the sound of the pocket trumpet from those original Ornette Coleman releases, but transmogrified through Cherry's own musical journey from the preceding decade (this is the mid 70s, after all). On the flipside, 'Chenrezig' evokes dark African clouds (Hakim Jamil's bass style is striking different than Haden's, which is a contributing factor; Cherry's vocals are growly and gruff). But there's also moments that glide along like a taxi in the streets of New York in the late 70's, calmly rooted in a sort of magical squalor. Ricky Cherry's acoustic piano is recorded in a way that makes it sound like an electric piano; by the end he's just pulsing on chords while Lowe and Don Cherry are ripping things up. 'Degi-Degi' takes things to a close, getting back to the electric boogie-whisper of 'Brown Rice'. Haden's bass sounds like it's been put through a loop pedal (except I don't think such things existed back then); the non-stop circular base has more electric pianos shattering glass around it. Cherry's voice and Lowe's sax mostly trade off roles, emulating a sort of verse-chorus-verse structure, but like a great Can track, the magic is all between the pulses. And with this, it fades away, though it connects to 'Brown Rice' and forms a Moebius strip of a record. We can read a bit into the cover photo - Cherry is in front of the Watts towers, yet adorned in some sort of traditional dress and slightly blurry, as if in motion. There is a definitively more 'urban' feel to this record than the last few, though it's still seeped in a mysterious atmosphere, a bit magical.

9 December 2010

Don Cherry - 'Eternal Now' (Antilles)

In Sweden now, Cherry is leaving his Ornette Coleman-influenced roots behind and working with musicians much closer to 'folk' than 'jazz', and also three guys I've never heard of. There's also no pocket trumpet or cornet to be found here, so maybe that's some other indication of his intended direction. (I've never actually been sure if he plays the cornet and the pocket trumpet, or if it's the same thing and just mislabeled by a lot of people). The opener, 'Gamla Stan - The Old Town by Night' sounds like the murky moody post-Mu direction, based around a h'suan (you know, the ancient Chinese instrument). It drifts gently into said night, suggesting a world more influenced by Palenque than Peking, but maybe that's just me. 'Love Train' is the smooth sexual force of Don Cherry, not the O'Jays, but actually it's Bernt Rosengren who is delivering the erotic salvos. Cherry, who composed the piece, stays on piano (with Christer Bothén) and directs the piece through a simple structure with occasionally erupting chord bangs. The taragot is Rosengren's instrument of choice, which is a wooden sax from Romania. When the notes change there's a bit of grift, and a much more mellow tone than a resonating sax bell would provide -- almost like a tenor sax crossed with an Indian shenhai. It's the closest to a proper jazz feeling on the whole record, as Rosengren knows how to work the reed. The gongs and Tibetan bells are felt more that overtly heard, and it's a nice slice of something different that appears to be something familiar. Bothén's own 'Bass Player for Ballatune' disrupts the smooth vibe, closing out the side with a pounding, Charlegmangian piano workout for six hands and two keyboards. It's dense and seems far longer than it's actual running time (3'45) -- and perhaps attempts to define 'eternal now'. On the flip we get 'Moving Pictures for the Ear', a repetetive tribal percussion jam over which Cherry extemporises on harmonium and vocals. I saw the No Neck Blues Band once and they got into a jam that sounded exactly like this, and the harmonium here floats around the same way their keyboard did. It's so simple, yet compelling - my highlight of the album - not so much because it's a convincing work of ethnoforgery but because the piece offers so much in a simple structure. The rhythms are there to pick apart and the timbre of the dousso n'Koni, in conjunction with the harmonium, make it endlessly psychedelic. 'Tibet' takes things full circle, with it's slowly expanding sound clouds -- Cherry bleating on the Pkan-dung, which the liner notes assure me is 'a Tibetan ritual trumpet constructed from the thighbone of a virgin'. It's the sparse journey you'd expect, a truly placid exploration that nonetheless manages to be interesting and with momentum. Overall, Eternal Now is a beautiful record to listen to, though maybe slightly leaning towards the dark side of "look at all of these cool ethnic instruments". Or actually, it straddles that line, as there's enough intuitive musicianship here to master anything unfamiliar, preventing this from being a mere educational exercise.

7 December 2010

Don Cherry/Krzysztof Penderecki - 'Humus - the Life Exploring Force/Actions (For Free Jazz Orchestra)' (Everest)

This odd pairing isn't really the unified synthesis of Polish avant-garde composition and free jazz pulse that it would suggest. Really, this is the product of the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, a free jazz big band populated by some of the giants of European free music. Manfred Schoof, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Peter Brötzmann, Wilem Breuker, Han Bennink, Terje Rypdal, Gunter Hampel and others -- such a collection of titans has rarely been assembled before! Cherry and Penderecki, two giants in different but occasionally overlapping worlds, probably don't share the stage at all on this recording. Side 1 is Cherry leading the band through his piece and side 2 is Penderecki, with Cherry absent. The labels are applied to the wrong sides on my copy, so I began by listening to side 2, which is the final 5 minutes of Cherry's 'Humus' and then Penderecki's composition, 'Actions'. 'Actions' is well-suited for this group - the many trumpets and saxes combine at both the beginning and the end to create a deep, throbbing drone that's both beautiful and malevolent. The chaotic parts remind me of the Globe Unity Orchestra recordings from around the same time period, no doubt due to some personnel overlap. But I file this under C for Cherry, because it's 'Humus' that is the more interesting piece. The orchestra, accentuated by Cherry, Loes Macgillycutty on vocals, and Mocqui Cherry on tambura, reads Cherry's melodies quite straight, giving a marching-band punch that I've never heard before in any of Cherry's music. Loes' singing is pretty much the icing on the cake (I like icing); she's fluttery and brash, but doesn't overdo it, sitting out long sections. The different movements of 'Humus' are broken down on the sleeve and the entire band stays to the script. But this is a script that allows a lot of improvisation. I think I can recognize Brötzmann in a few points, and Macgillycutty manages to punch her voice along with the instruments quite seamlessly. The coda, on side 2, brings back some of the Sanskrit chants heard on the last few records, with Cherry speaking to the crowd and trying to lead a complicated count on the 1, 5 and 13 beats. He almost talks more than he plays here, but it's a nice reprise of what's now a familiar theme ('Sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-mi'). Everything explodes in blast of cacophonous jazz blowing, and then we're out. (Well, actually this is where the Penderecki piece starts, but I'm trying to assess this in the proper order. Kinda like when my friend went to see Matrix 2, and the cinema screwed up and started showing the middle of the film first, and then the beginning came at the end.) I feel like I would be missing an opportunity if I finish this writeup without making some joke about 'hummus' but, well, there ya go.

5 December 2010

Don Cherry - 'Blue Lake' (Get Back)

Here's another unearthed trio recording from '71, relissued on Get Back with nice thick vinyl and unreadably Japanese gatefold liner notes. This is the Dyani/Tamiz band we heard on Orient, recorded live and recorded well. After Cherry's title track (a bamboo forest of strange swampy delights), we embark into 'Dollar and Okay's Tunes', which Cherry introduces through a friendly, conversational spoken section. It sounds like we're getting some of Dollar's tunes first, though it's all a big medley -- at least I'm assuming Dollar Brand writes the more cyclical, melodic piano-driven tunes. It definitely veers into the 'Eagle Eye' territory we heard before, except the sound is much more huge - perhaps things are recorded better, or the band is better at multi-tasking. Regardless, it's a swirling ball of sound that sounds great - unified, cohesive and luxurious. Tamiz is a great percussionist who can ride the waves, driving things forward while still containing them. The melodic structures, resembling (in some ways) Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath with the repetitive, simple melodies and ebullience, are departure points. When Cherry pulls out the trumpet, suddenly we're skirted away into uncharted Oriental depths. But it shifts a bit; over the 1.5 sides of this suite, we're taken through worlds of childlike simplicity and then thrust into staggering dynamic complexities. There's a nice interaction between Dyani's bass and Cherry on vocals and I think xylophone near the end of side two, and it sputters into a bit of vocal babbling (or maybe its perfectly lucid and I just don't understand the language) -- which has soft, rubberised edges and is extremely welcoming, even though the music stops and Cherry thanks the interior designer of the venue. It's a bit of a strange ending, but all muscles are relaxed by this point. Platter two is one long piece, 'East', which begins with a bouncy groove and some sinister bass played, using deep bow strokes and occasional fiber scratches. Cherry is again on piano for most of this and by this point I've started to really feel his doubletracked vocal/ivory stylings. While 'East' at first suggests a more avant-free exploration, it doesn't take long til we've fallen back into the same song-based stuff heard on the first record, and indeed on the last one as well. But it's not a comfort zone, it's a truly passionate musical communication. The band really gets cooking around one of those chanted four-note melodies that Cherry's fond of; it sounds strangely familiar, like maybe something from Mu or Orient, but it's always evolving so much that it's hard to say. Maybe I'm feeling Cherry's eternal rhythm, or maybe it's just somnambulant melodies.

4 December 2010

Don Cherry - 'Orient' (Get Back)

Orient's title track, split over two sides, is a rambunctious and sprawling improvisational duo with Han Bennink (or technically a trio, as there is very minimally contributed tambura). Cherry and Bennink both move between instruments, with a heavy emphasis on repetitive, circular piano melodies to open and close the piece. In the middle is where the meat is, though it's always changing. One memorable part on side 2, near the end, finds Bennink's trashcan cymbal style as a nice ridge against an otherwise hypnotic, stuck-record piano riff. It's great to see these two together; the most interesting bit is where Cherry is singing (in a sharp yet earthy caterwaul) over Bennink's xylophone/steel drum freakout. Or at least I think so; it actually sounds like both of them are playing this demented afrorhythm, but Bennink is the master of sounding like two for one. The hybrid world-fusion than was begun on the Mu records feels like it's found a more confident footing while simultaneously being more loose -- such is the power that someone like Bennink can contribute. I always tend to equate Bennink with a more humorous playfulness than Cherry often displays, and the beginning of 'Orient' on side 2 has a Dadaist call and response horn part that is reprised at the end with Bennink emulating brass instruments with his own voice. It ends the whole collaboration on a goofball moment that's a new direction for Cherry, yet somehow not incongruous with his eversought earthpulse. 'Eagle Eye', a trio recording with Johnny Dyani and Okay Tamiz, is the next split-across-two-sides piece. It's significantly more meandering and less propulsive, but shows another side of Cherry. It unfolds slowly, with some bowed bass and a much more languid drum style -- in some ways I think Tamiz is more attuned to Cherry's heartbeat, though perhaps the results are less intriguing than with Bennink's iconoclasm. Some moaning/chanting gets the energy level up before it settles into a nice piano riff groove, spoiled only by the platter-dividing fadeout. On side 3, the groove returns and so does the chanting, with a few James Brown-style interjections ("Help me out! I need help!", to which Dyani responds with his bassline; "I've been trying to learn to sing, y'know, but I really need help...." and then more pleas for vocal assistance, assuring the listener (or the band) as to how simple the song actually is). Soon, some live crowd sound is mixed in, sounding like a huge cavernous space, almost like a fake studio effect but maybe they just swung the microphone to face the other way. But it is a live performance, as the ending applause reveals. 'Eagle Eye' does start to become tiresome, but at some indeterminate point the tune turns into 'Togetherness', where Cherry busts out the pocket trumpet and gives us some of what we've been waiting for. This is another solid piece, and a nice crowdpleaser as the aforementioned applause indicates. Side four reunites Cherry with Han Bennink, and the tambura is a bit more audible here (or maybe only present here and not on 'Orient' at all, I'm not sure). 'Si Ta Ra Ma' is a side-long song structured around a four-note melody which is extended through piano, tabla, singing and other formats. It's a minimalist deconstruction of a melodic figure not unlike the work of Henry Flynt or, much later, Richard Youngs' Advent record. It does feel like Bennink has to take a backseat and given my stereotype of Dutch free jazz, it almost feels weird to imagine him embarking on this chant. But that's a stupid preconception to have about someone as fluid and shapeshifting as Bennink, and he manages to refute it throughout the duration of the side. He's in pitter-patter mode consistently, whether it be tabla, steel drum, or blocky-sounding drums. His nervousness plays off Cherry's calm, and when the melody returns on piano, it's like the sun setting over the harbour.

30 November 2010

Jon Appleton and Don Cherry - 'Human Music' (Flying Dutchman)

Thank heavens for this vinyl reissue! Because this is an amazingly out-there classic of electroacoustic whackjobbery, and it just sounds so so great on this nice thick slice o' black polymer (and you know I'd never uncover an original). I try to approach recordings like this somewhat critically these days, as opposed to just enjoying the twisted sonic excursions, etc. So what's so great about this? Well, in some ways, it's exactly like Mu, except replacing Ed Blackwell with Jon Appleton. But the same interest in texture and space is here, as this is a very spacious exploration. The vocals are the most intriguing part - and they are sometimes hard to distinguish from the synthesizers. There's murmurs, gasps, and yelps, and the opening cut 'BOA' slips in some layered glossolalia among the synth's many exaltations. Cherry's small wooden sounds are a natural fit for the clean, line-in ambience of Appleton's tools. It's the definitive statement of the record, even though the two musicians feel like they are not even in the same room, due to the cold headspace. But then 'OBA' brings in some traditional trumpet playing, a brassy, back and forth circus that could have come straight from Mu but with whoknowswhat programming around it. Cherry's improvisational style is punchier here, and the dancing synths really work with it, especially when breaking in analogue glissandos, an ebullient outburst worthy of the finest free jazz heads. The two players integrate much more closely on side 2. 'ABO' is a full interaction that uses Cherry's kalimba for a particularly memorable (and somewhat fierce) middle section. 'BAO' closes it out by retreating underwater. There's a flange effect on Cherry's slow, concentrated breaths and everything feels like it's melting. Dartmouth College Electronic Music Studio (in Hanover, NH) is a hell of a place to produce something like this, and I have to appreciate whoever was forward thinking enough to pluck these two out of their respective orbits and get them working together. History has littered our consciousness with many crazy synth freakout records but I do feel this one has some staying power, though I guess this attempt to address it in a critical manner has failed. Because ultimately I like these types of "outer sounds" when they manage to appeal to something beyond my brainspace, which Cherry's worldthrob outpourings certainly do.

Don Cherry - 'Mu Second Part' (Affinity)

It's hard to find a decent-sized image to steal out there, because most of them are for the alternate white BYG issue. But I have both Mus on Affinity, and these back covers are adorned with great-yet-frightening photos of Mr. Cherry. In this second part, he's cracking a mad/evil smile and his eyes are bulging out of his head, but the effect casts him more as a lunatic than a villain. I guess only a lunatic would create a medley called 'The Mysticism of My Sound', a piano-driven suite that actually isn't nearly as mystical as anything else found on the two Mu slices. As suggested at the end of part 1, the piano noodlings are some sort of bridge into an extended piano workout. This is very slow-paced, and quite simplistic. There are bluesy overtones (particularly in the medley's opening movement, named after Dollar Brand), but none of the weird fidelity found on part 1's 'Terrestrial Beings'. Blackwell is holding things down but letting Cherry ring on, and the space is again a nice element (there are long sections where Cherry is only playing with one hand, clearly intending to highlight the melody over any sort of dazzling technique or freedom). It segues into bamboo night (in a piece titled, yes, 'Bamboo Night'), where said flute comes back to prominence, then drifts into the ether. Blackwell ends the side with a mini-solo, where he does that thing drummers do, you know, where they kinda push on the skins and warp the sounds. 'Peo Peo Can' (or 'Teo-Teo-Can' depending on whether you believe the sleeve or the label) begins side 2 with some real mysticism. Cherry plays the Indian flute, chants, and speaks in tongues all at the same time. Blackwell is on tiny percussion - one part sounds suspiciously like those rainsticks you get at airport gift shops. Things finally erupt in 'Psychodrama', another medley, which starts with the trumpet/drums freakout we've all been waiting for. But even this is strangely regal, and comes in bursts. But by the end (after going through another section named after Dollar Brand, with more piano of course), things wither away, the lifeforce receding into the distance. I haven't really sat down and listened to these records in years, at least not as closely as this -- which is, of course, the real purpose of this project. But I found a much more diverse and lively array of musical ideas than you would think only two people would be capable of. In some ways this is Cherry's masterpiece, even though it's sketchy, impulsive and unfocused -- but it may be the best representation of him as a musician. Perhaps these need to be paired with Brown Rice for a better picture.

29 November 2010

Don Cherry - 'Mu First Part' (Affinity)

Cherry and Blackwell bashed out these two records in 1969, showcasing their interactions without Henry Grimes or anyone else in the way. Obviously there's a lot more space here, and some parts are quite mellow. But there's also a lot of ferociousness. Cherry doesn't stick to his pocket trumpet, though it opens things with the Eastern-tinged (and modestly named) 'Brilliant Action'. The bamboo flute and Indian flute are both credited, and I'm not sure which one is on 'Amejelo', a long, flowing meditation that occasionally breaks into patient Ed Blackwell solos. Blackwell likewise expands his palette, using a lot of little instruments and overall choosing steady breathing over manic jazz hands. I guess it's Cherry who is responsible for the chanting, singing and moaning that occasionally pops up, but that's only because it happens where there isn't anything else he could be doing. It feels like these are completely improvised, though it's sometimes hard to tell in a free duo format. 'Total Vibration' is split over both sides and picks up the pace a bit after 'Amejelo's restraint. The trumpet, particularly after hearing so much flute, sounds positively acidic - the total vibrations are within every note, and Blackwell's puttering about only serves to enhance it. It drifts out on a boom-chik beat, all quiet energy emphasised through simplicity. The closing track, 'Terrestrial Beings', finds Cherry on the piano, an instrument which he approaches from a far more grounded approach than when he's blowing. There are moments of pure Sun Ra, especially at the end as it wiggles into the run-out groove, also due in part to the strange fidelity and texture of the recording. But there are also traces of honky-tonk and middle Eastern music as well. Maybe this is just a filler track, or maybe it's supposed to indicate a bridge to part 2 -- it's hard to know what Cherry's motivation is. But it's actually one of the highlights of the record, because it really conveys the otherworldly feel that the title Mu suggests.

28 November 2010

Don Cherry - 'Where is Brooklyn?' (Blue Note)

Into stereo we march; Gato's out, and Pharoah's in. Things starts off with 'Awake Nu', an unstoppably fluid juggernaut, with Grimes hitting soft tonalities over Blackwell's nervous pulse. Pharoah's really shining here cause Cherry actually holds back a lot, like he's introducing his band. The sax tones are somewhat thin, yet heavy, like they are being set in plasticene. Cherry's own bleats are much more playful compared to what he did with Gato. But that record was called Complete Communion so obviously it was about harmony. Here, a question mark in the title sets an interrogative nature, and occasionally some probing questions do come out, like at the end of 'Awake Nu'. This leads into 'Taste Maker', where we get a more ferocious cornucopia of brass, occasionally erupting. Henry Grimes takes a great bass solo, appearing like a rabid woodchuck shrouded in mist. He solos again, on 'The Thing', which closes out side 1 with a jaunty, Cherry-driven exploration that shrouded in darkness yet upbeat. The melodies aren't obvious and there's no hummable hooks, but there's a continual ebb and flow of musical ideas. When Cherry goes textural, Pharoah turns on the sweet stuff; the rhythm section is continually adjusting. One thing I didn't realise about Where is Brooklyn? until halfway through side 2 is the amount of space here. There's very few points where everyone is "all in", instead with many duo and trio moments to establish a pace and preserve continuity. Side 2 ends in an 18 minute jam called 'Unite' which is the most flowing and open piece yet in the Cherry solo repertoire, no surprise since the duration allows more exploration and space. It never stops pulsing, but also avoids severe dissonance. In short, it swings, despite variously oppositional tactics and a constantly elusive tonal centre. I love when Grimes gets simple with it -- there are brief segments where he just taps one note, letting things settle down, only to have them flare up again, bathed in cornet and sax. Overall, Where is Brooklyn? is exploratory, yet genteel; it's cover drawing is marvellously appropriate.

Don Cherry - 'Complete Communion' (Blue Note)

If you've ever needed evidence of why record geeks often prefer mono pressings of things, listen here. This record sounds so unbelieveably good, that I have trouble believing it's almost 45 years old. This particular pressing is in mint fuckin' condition as well, so I'm always a bit hesitant to actually, y'know, play the thing. But just like I one day learned to accept that it's okay to lose brain cells, I learned to enjoy Complete Communion -- completely! This is Cherry's first solo LP for Blue Note, one of a trilogy (of which I am missing the middle entry, my fave, Symphony for Improvisers). The band is Cherry, Gato Barbieri, Henry Grimes and Ed Blackwell, and it's divided into two four-piece suites, 'Complete Communion' and 'Elephantasy', all penned by Cherry. 'Complete Communion' is an incredibly advanced subversion of jazz melodies. It's an iconic tune, one of the few from the avant canon that I can actually hum unprompted; yet throughout all four of its segments, whenever you feel the harmony about to hit, either Cherry or Gato ducks away from it, and goes to some weird minor second interval, just for a second. It's a series of marginal disruptions, but Grimes and Blackwell roll through everything with such a peppy momentum that you never really settle in it. The tune is a great one too, sprinkled with vaguely Iberian spice (perhaps this was written specifically for Gato?) and a lot of range in its monaural glory. We don't need separate channels for the cornet and sax, because these guys have a great way of responding to each other and establishing a complementary relationship, even though they mirror melody lines more than a few times. I can really hear how influential Cherry was on Don Ayler, because he has this way of playing a line that feels like he's mumbling it, out of the side of his mouth (yet through the cornet mouthpiece). It's those casual gestures that keep me coming back to music. Blue Note's high quality studio no doubt contributes to the 'classic' status of these records, because some of the 70s records don't have the same clarity that this does. Blackwell's cymbals in particular manage to sit just perfectly in the mix. Grimes is maybe the least obvious element, though halfway through 'Elephantasy' he gets a nice bowed string solo which folds back into the group before outstaying its welcome. 'Elephantasy' in general is a more fluid, exploratory piece. It's tempo shifts sometimes suggests the space of the lounge, and at other times, a menagerie. I actually find it a bit less exotic than 'Complete Communion' though maybe the title is supposed to suggest adventures in India. Of course. we're still a few albums away from Cherry's complete communion with the pulse of the earth, if such a thing is to be believed -- there's still a solid footing in post-bop free-jazz, which is a nice anchor. Total righteousness all around.

25 November 2010

Rhys Chatham - 'Factor X' (Moers Music)

We have reached post #200, this early LP by Rhys Chatham which I've always enjoyed for it's bleak walls of seamless surfaces. Side one is the real monster, 'For Brass', written for 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, a tuba and a percussionist. We get Anton Fier banging the skins, and because of this it feels like a product of the early 80's New York new/no-wave scene. Despite the dissonant layers of the brass instruments it could pass for a nihilistic, bleak rock group. Olu Dara and George Lewis play on this, and it's a way I've never heard them before. Trumpets have the tonal range to cut through all of the dark layers (which seem to be built from the 'bones) so you get these moments of hurtling through a giant sheet of waxed paper, only to be caught in another net for awhile. It's mesmerising. Side two starts with 'Guitar Ring', which has echoes of 'All World Cowboy Romance' and the obvious Branca comparisons. Moers Music did a nice job on the mastering so this does ring really well. I can't decide if it would be more enjoyable without James Lo (of Live Skull fame) drumming throughout it. That would be certainly create a wider plane to stretch out on, but then the nervous pulse would be absent. And it's that pulse that really pulls this away from other minimalist explorers like Niblock, et al. Clean channel electric guitars always sound good to me, and the way that these sheets of glass crash around is enough mystery for me. Near the end a little riff peeks out, and y'know it wouldn't be out of place on a Burma record or even something more pop-oriented ... but it sinks back in before establishing any sort of anthemic tendency, and it's a nice detail. 'The Out of Tune Guitar #2' and 'Cadenza' fill out the LP. The former is a two minute rave-up that scatters sparks all over the place before fizzling out - it's pretty damn impressive, but it also sorta sounds like Polvo. 'Cadenza' draws out a long long single note pathway, allowing ghosting overtones to build up, with James Lo doing what rock drummers do in these situations. It's the other side of Chatham, one that is more open and gracious, but it's deceiving cause there's actually five guitars the slowly add to the pile until it cascades over the dusk. I don't think to pull this record out very much, cause the images and sensations I get from it (similar, I think, to Birdsongs of the Mesozoic) aren't something I think I'm in the mood for. But this doesn't disappoint on any level, and it's a nice contrast to the ten Don Cherry LPs that lie ahead.

20 November 2010

Charalambides - 'IN CR EA SE' (Eclipse)

Time has been kind to IN CR EA SE, which I remembered as being brutal, stark and difficult when I originally bought it. I probably played it once and shelved it, which is funny because it's the only record I have by this band, whom I actually like a lot. Well, it is brutal, stark and difficult, but that doesn't mean it isn't great too. Christina Carter is relegated to chord organ and vocal duty, which is a bit of a shame because her guitar playing is usually brilliant, even visionary at times. But Tom Carter is amazing too and his tonal bends, reverb-laden explorations and perfect scrapes get spotlighted here. Side one, 'IN', is a dense, dark storm, but it's slow as a worm, like everything on this record. It's the sunrise of the album, with plenty of references to 'that Charalambides sound' that they do in their live shows. His guitar is frantic and ragged, but it never is in excess -- every gestures is carefully calculated. 'CR' opens things up a bit, a more broad landscape bathed in bright white light. There's difficulties in navigation - though the instrumentation is very minimal, its well-explored. It's the second LP where things get much more unpleasant. 'EA' starts the wall of sound - of dissonant chord organ intervals and hazy, uncertain guitar twangs. Christina's voice soars at the end of both tracks, sounding possibly multi-tracked, yet thin - it's all part of the clouds. These four pieces are obviously improvised, though I don't think completely free -- there is a focus that is overwhelming, expressed as tension that never lets up. IN CR EA SE is a long, long listen -- I didn't time it but it feels like each side is over 20 minutes -- and it's hard to tune out or allow to become an ambient blanket because it's such an unsettling vibe. The title is pretty accurate as to how the record progresses, as 'IN' feels like a gentle, pastoral memory by the time you reach 'SE'. I love how Charalambides are so aggressively experimental, yet throb on a familiar pulse. They have a mastery of subtlety and technique, and maybe this is displayed more here than on their more familiar releases. There's clearly an appreciation of tradition - of psych, folk, and minimal precedents -- I see Charalambides as mining the drift between the notes of 13th Floor Elevators' 'Dust' , another Texas dark star.

30 October 2010

Eugene Chadbourne - 'Country Music in the World of Islam' (Fundamental)

This is a collaboration between Chadbourne, the Sun City Girls and Elliot Sharp -- and you could probably include Matt Groening in there too, as Akbar and Jeff are spilling all over this record. As a band, well, Chadbourne and Sun City Girls work together brilliantly. Who else is so attuned to Chadbourne's rambling sensibility? And the title is apt for describing the contents. The songs blend together into two side-long suites, much like his performance style. I saw Chadbourne live once, but on record I don't have to endure the rather brutal odor that emanated from the stage. If only I could have seen this lineup! Rick Bishops's guitar playing is great with Chadbourne's style, and the goofy songs fit right in with the Dante's Disneyland mentality. I actually rate this over all those great Shockabilly records, maybe cause I like things sharp and not so echoey. Not that this record will be that much of a departure for Shockabilly fans. This is 1990, made nine years into the Reagan revolution, and understandably the songs burst with batshit insane conspiracy theories, social commentary on 80s issues, and timeless cleverness like 'Big John Loves His Dick'. 'Castro's Surgery is a Mystery' is maybe the pinnacle of this madness, a good dose of Horse Cock Phepner-style lyrical musings overlaid with the most sinister (yet stupid) sampled voice. You can't go too far into a Chadbourne record without hearing some cover versions, so you get Gram Parsons 'Luxury Liner', 'I Wouldn't Live in New York City' by Buck Owens, and the jazz standard 'I Cover the Waterfront'. The latter is done in a dirgy 80s' indie rock way, overlaid with braying farmyard animals, obtuse keyboard interference and several overdubbed layers of Chadbourne arguing with himself. And every once in awhile a really sweet harmony is reached with Charles Gocher, and some bittersweet sentimentality leaks through (despite the radio voice talking overtop). All throughout the record, of course, there's plucking and scrambling galore - banjo in particular works well with the usual Bishopisms. Everyone has a strong free improv sensibility that's really unique when pushed against these bouncy, brightly delivered songs. The middle of the record gets into more ballady tunes, with 'I'm Not You' and 'He Was a Boy' taking the humour down a notch; the band really gets cooking at the end of 'Boy' and Gocher in particular responds well and holds things just on the verge of pure chaos. 'Hippies and Cops' has a real alternarock edge not just because of the conflict described in the lyrics, but due to the deep fuzz guitars and basses. They're mixed low but it's still pleasantly tongue in cheek - 'The List is Too Long' gets into more metal-influenced rock with noodly solos that are probably Chadbourne, but it's actually hard to tell. I'm reminded of late 80s SST experimentalists, and the rock is brought back as an intro to the last tune, 'Don't Burn the Flag, Let's Burn the Bush'. Certainly flag-burning was all the rage in 1990 and the topical nature of this is not lost on me, but who knew what would happen a decade later in American politics! I'm sorry this wasn't revived for the dark part of the 00s, because when you sing 'The president oughta be in jail' it feels even more relevant when applied to the son. Though this is an unusually straightforward tune for Chadbourne it's charming, my own political sympathies notwithstanding - you can only imagine a frustrated 80s Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg (RIP, by the way!) happy to see some flame still burning.

21 October 2010

Car Commercials - 'Eric's Diary' (Soft Abuse)

Clearly this is some sort of companion piece to Judy's Dust, as it has a similar title, the same style of paste-on covers and the same inversion of teenage nostalgia/futurism. The sounds inside, though, take such an alien, unsettled gambit that it's almost impossible to reach inside this bauble. The few vocal hooks that peer out of Judy's Dust feel like Top 40 compared to Eric's very strange Diary. It's a bit hard to tell what's what, since there seems to be an extra song on each side, but there's much more of a keyboard presence here, though played somewhat ironically on the (aptly titled) 'Teenage Pact' -- the Casio sounds are pushed to the forefront over manic drummin' and strummin', and it serves to isolate Car Commercials' apparent disinterest in their own music. There's less warbly walkman shit here, but the fidelity isn't any better - this is almost like the outtakes of Judy's Dust. 'Bad Plans in Action' and 'In A Hallway' use maddening guitar figures - any sort of riff has disintegrated, leaving only the excess gestures. Vocals, as well, are far more in the stream-of-consciousness/yelping style, though the lyrics are clear enough if you want to suss out whatever these guys are on about. The snare drum and feedback squeals are the punctuation of this otherwise unending miasma. It's a strange and challenging trip, for sure; and though it has the same sonic elements as the 7" and first LP, yet somehow it feels stark and bare. There's a part just before 'Oh My God, it's happening' where my record skipped and it made a rather infectious rhythm loop, but the rules of this game dictate that I had to bump the stylus along. And what came next? More feedback, muttered words and cold clattering. The closing tracks on each side are the most extreme of any Car Commercials vision to date. 'Everything Hurts Me' is long and tough-going -- it's attenuated towards painful yelping and frustrated outbursts, and it starts to take on a hall of mirrors quality. The end of side 2 ('Blew It') which may actually be two tracks (it's hard to tell) is the opposite - sparse, bare, and the most Shadow Ring-style they've ever done --- except minus all the attitude, just bathed in awkwardness. in the middle is a huge piece of silence, and then a fragmentary church-organ coda (maybe this is the bonus track? ). The typewritten track listing has what's clearly intentional typos, certainly a metaphor for the music, so maybe this is Pussy Galore refracted through 15 subsequent years of avant-damage. This is the type of record that I could become easily obsessed over, as it makes me want to keep exploring it's unlit corridors, even though I know there's no fun there.

15 October 2010

Car Commercials - 'Judy's Dust' (Cenotaph)

This is the new sound of New Jersey, and a pretty carefully cultivated one at that. Half of these guys are in Home Blitz and the other half was affiliated with Ladderwoe, so the resulting mix is pretty accurately a blend - a freeish rock group with a real anti-aesthetic and a particular velocity. The opening track is a long warbling instrumental with noodling casio and scraping, and it never even closely congeals into anything tangible, though with an exactitude and deliberation missing from most free-form ensembles of today's world. When the rock riffs creep in, first heard on '190' and most effecively on 'Babe's out of luck' (which actually approximates a traditional rock song), it's cathartic. A satisfying release to tension and it makes you think the whole mess was quite deliberate. Is it hard to connect to the expressions here? Surely 'Mechanic's yelps and mumbles bear no resemblance to sanity, but then it's hard to deny those rough songforms, when they turn up. 'Collida and Jimmy' begins with an anthemic strum, though soon after the singing starts (an off-kilter warble, of course) it proceeds to follow it's own musings down dark corridors and never comes back. The drumset is used throughout the record with maximum imprecision, but it fits the faux-nostalgia that the sleeve artwork (and liner "notes") create. It's park Jandek, of course, with a smidgeon of Pere Ubu but also a good helping of Kenneth Higney. Just blazing on through in a cavern of one-take songbash, Judy's Dust somehow overcomes it's limitations and communicates. There's no inertia here. The slowly melting, unfolding of 'The Devils' hints at a grand vision, and the occasional intrusion of tape-player speed adjustment or feedback squeal all seems like part of it. Maybe 'The Investigation' is their 'Murder Mystery', I don't know for sure. It's rock music, deconstructed and reinvented yet again. And it ends with a Boomtown Rats cover.

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - 'Wangaratta Wahine' (Image)

I only know this gang of Australian jug-band revivalists because their first LP was (strangely) released on the ESP label. This is their second, from 1974, and it's a pretty solid effort for what it is. I guess I admit a soft spot for liking this sort of thing, which explains it's presence in these pages (and all the Spike Jones CDs I have). As miners of pre-World War II popular music, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band are certainly competent. This record is loaded with speedy chops, and relatively tasteful arrangements - they were a fairly large ensemble whose members know when to not play. The harmonica was supposedly the big attraction here and it's nice, certainly preferable to the silly fart-sounding kazoo playing that appears a few times. Eleven of the twelve songs are upbeat, usually built around a rock drum kit, which (in conjunction with the good studio recording) dates this music and gives it that slightly disappointing retro feel. The slow tune is 'Wait for me Juanita', which is actually a beautiful, delicate song that transcends the novelty vibe stuck on everything else. The Aussie accents sneak through at times, on the title track or on the pro-smoking bend of 'If youse a viper'. We get lots of cartoony sections, and plenty of goofball vocals, but there's a dedication to the style that is earnest enough. My tastes definitely run towards the Bohemian vibes of 'Lovesick blues' or 'Half a moon is better than no moon' moreso than silly tunes lke 'Your feets to big'(sic). 'Jug band music' is perhaps their raison d'être, which actually is quite stirring and honest. Of course, my taste in jug bands runs closer to 13th Floor Elevators, but I can sort of understand why ESP was affiliated with these guys. Did I mention I bought this in Melbourne? Maybe this kind of retro sensibility comes around every twenty years - the Squirrel Nut Zippers had a hit in '96 so I guess we have a few more to wait for the next one.

Can - 'Moonshake' (Cherry Red)

I thought this was an odd release when I stumbled across it - a 12", 45prm single for 'Moonshake' released a decade too late. And on Cherry Red records! But this makes sense - it's an early 80's label, very much 'of its time', looking back to an influence on its own sound. A bit of retro fun, recast in moody 80s low-lighting. And it works -- and 45rpm never hurts for great bass resonance. As mentioned before, my copy of Future Days disappeared somehow, so this is my sole way to hear 'Moonshake' on vinyl until a new copy arrives. I forgot all of the business happening between the notes here - it's such a busy track, with Can really trying to cram as much into a fairly low-key, repetitive groove as possible. In some ways it's as forward thinking as 'Aumgn', but just expressed within the song instead of around it. But the real reason I treasure this single is 'Turtles Have Short Legs', the greatest Can non-album track. This is Damo spazzing out with a bit of anthropomorphic nonsense over a silly, stupid piano riff. It has to be a holdover from the Malcolm Mooney days, but maybe not; the only thing I really know about it is that 'Parappa the Rapper' stole the backing music and stuck it in a playstation game, one of the more head-scratching wtfs ever. But it's a great, silly song, and Damo sorta sings 'regs' instead of 'legs' which is such a great great stereotype, captured in vinyl forever (and at 45rpm!). On the AA side, 'One More Night' sounds as great as always, a window into an endless maze of its own architecture. It says on the sleeve that Epic Soundtracks helped "compile" this, though picking 3 songs isn't really hard work. Thanks, Cherry Red!

14 October 2010

Can - 'Soon Over Babaluma' (United Artists)

I really like records that have that shiny, mirrored cover, even though when they are 35 years old (in this case) they really start to look shitty, almost like the sleeve is going rusty. I never know how to rate Soon Over Babaluma. This is Can's first album without an exclusive vocalist, but should that matter? Future Days, which somehow disappeared from my accumulation, is one of my favourite Can records, perhaps the one where they most truly explore the idea of 'Inner Space'. Soon Over Babaluma actually amps things up a bit, but there's a really strong Italian prog influence. It's heard most notably on "Splash', though since this LP is so beaten I couldn't get all the way though that track without having to pick up the stylus FOUR TIMES to circumvent skips. Michael Karoli and Irmin Schmidt are more than adequate vocalists for this type of music, which is frantic, yet horizontal; it finds a nervousness and stays locked between two poles, oscillating in a way that allows Karoli to do some lead guitar heroics. 'Chain Reaction' is the longest track here, at 11 minutes, but it doesn't really get into the more bizarre soundregions the earlier albums explore. When it breaks, it sorta rolls with a funk/jazz feel. The basslines are properly monotonous, but Can has migrated by this point into a (very, very good) prog-rock band. It's still great music on that level, but it's not the truly special sound explorations we heard on 'Peking O'. And I hate to say it, but it feels compositionally scattered. Jaki has moved from drums to "perc." and you can hear it here - this resembles King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black-style Fripp leads + wacky percussion. Or maybe that's Lark's Tongues, I always forget which one has the extra percussionist. The maracas and shakers tend to overwhelm things. There's not nearly as much space in these songs, but there's certainly a more sci-fi feeling (just look at the cover)! 'Dizzy Dizzy' and 'Come Sta. La Luna' are the two leadoff tracks and potential singles, though if you listen to a hit like 'Spoon' and then come back to this, well, it's just not the same. 'Come Sta. La Luna' is Irmin singing and it sounds like some dark miscreant horror movie spawn; it's oddball even in the diverse catalogue of Can and one that's sure to be repeated. 'Quantum Physics' is the closer, a dark piece that's hard to really sort out, but it has some nice textural work. I stop after this, with Can, though a bit of the later stuff I've heard is very very nice, probably in a way that if it were any other band, I'd listen to lots. But because it's Can, my standards are too high.

12 October 2010

Can - 'Tago Mago' (United Artists)

When I found this copy of Tago Mago I was torn between this British import, with alternate cover photo and neat (but delicate) matchbox folding -- and the original gatefold cover we know and love. I went with this one to save a few bucks, in the process depriving myself of one of the most iconic images in the whole Kraut world, but probably snagging the more rare of the two options. This isn't an amazing pressing, or maybe it's just old, or maybe my stylus is just showing some wear (we are 191 records through this project, after all). Side one opens with 'Paperhouse', which segues into 'Mushroom', a track that really opens up and (on a good pressing) allows you to really hear the room when Jaki is cracking against the rim of his snare drum. Here, things are a bit distorted and the sense of space is compromised a bit by the inevitable noticing of vinyl artifice. Oh well. I used to somewhat discount 'Mushroom' for the obvious drug reference but tonight it just sounds magical - particularly the converging downward tones of the guitar leads and the organ leads. 'Oh Yeah' is the champion tune of the first side though, beginning with noisy, electronic filterbanks and unfolding into a bouncy, jazzy groove. I particularly like the sense of backwardsness that is throughout - maybe Damo's unique vocal style or maybe a bit of studio trickery. It feels like art that is erasing itself as it happens, trying to keep up with its own beautiful internal momentum. Overall there's so much more swing here than in any of the Mooney stuff, 'Soul Desert' excepted. I dunno if it's Damo's influence or Jaki coming out of his shell more, but 'Paperhouse' introduces a new lightness of touch that serves Can well, particularly on 'Oh Yeah' when the band will sort rise, like the crest of a wave, then it will break and shimmy out into every direction at once. It's a sense of motion that is far more open and free than Monster Movie's grooves. In the middle of Tago Mago, quite literally, are two side-long pieces. Both are behemoths, amazingly dense constructions that are (to me) what cements Can's legend. 'Hallelujah' you've all heard - a repetitive hook, bass-driven, that again proceeds quite dub-like through 1,000 transformations in eighteen minutes. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration but whereas 'Yoo Doo Right' is plodding and (sorry) stupid, 'Hallelujah' answers to a higher calling It rolls more than it rocks, without being any less heavy. In the middle it suddenly turns all Tony Curtis-like, but it's still the same song. When turned up really, really loud, it rips the roof off. But then, side 3 has 'Aumgn', 17:22 of Can's most experimental side. If you dig the Holger Czukay solo album Canaxis (and I sure do) then you might love this, though Canaxis's platitudes of calm are replaced by intense, screaming horror. There's dense walls of sound, upfront organ textures, blatant music concrete, and overdriven drum pounding that duets with a sinewave generator, barking dogs, and Damo shoving the microphone down his throat and moaning through reverb and delay units (just like kids do today, in basements worldwide). Those who want to dismiss this as mere fucking around should direct their attention to the last five or six minutes, where everything builds to a ludicrous crescendo before sputtering out into an assonant dawn. Gratuitous, no! It's actually one of the most accomplished examples of long-form rock experimentation on record. And after that, side 4's 'Peking O' feels relatively short (at twelve minutes). I don't know how connected Damo was to the nihilistic Japanese psychedelic underground happening at this time, but 'Peking O' begins like a companion piece to Tereyama's Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. It's harsh, dissonant layers of organ, delay-affected vocal screeching that melts into a bizarro Casio lounge trip, a bizarre atmosphere that is somewhat plush animals and somewhat proto-Residents tone-squawk. There's swirling keyboard lines, bent jazz breakdowns, and a manic, Brainticket-esque pulse. It's the fragmented attention-span, non-linear adjunct to 'Aumgn's dense wall of cosmic energy. It's easy to get lost in the magic, but then when you think about the step made between Monster Movie and this, well, it's a holyshitohmigod-nobrainer. I can hear Renaldo and the Loaf birthing into existence, and the sequenced blast beats + electric piano noodling are a recipe for dementia. Vocally, Damo is showing how he influenced both C. Spencer Yeh and the Micro Machines guy. At the end it finds it's pulse, just in time to burn out and introduce 'Bring Me Coffee or Tea', which despite it's darkly impulsive suspension, can only feel like a comedown when juxtaposed with the last four tracks. There's a reason Tago Mago is considered an all-time classic and I didn't really just need to write all of this to further inflate it's legend. But sometimes a close listen, even to something familiar, is rewarding in a way you'd never expect. And that's been a nice benefit to this project - rediscovering what was never lost.

11 October 2010

The Can - 'Soundtracks' (Liberty)

The baton is passed from Mooney to Suzuki, though it's not sequenced this way. The back cover of this even indicates that this is "the second album of THE CAN, but not album no. two". So we're to view this as a stopgap collection, not an album proper but something to document the soundtrack work during this transitional time (1969/1970). You can hear the baton being passed most beautifully at the end of side one, though sequencing actually places Damo's underrated 'Don't Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone' before Mooney's last gasp 'Soul Desert'. I'd have preferred the two sides of Soundtracks to be played backwards, because then you open the record with 'Mother Sky' and close with 'Soul Desert'. Which makes more sense, cause a) 'Mother Sky' is one of the greatest tracks in the history of rock music, a powerful tour de force that grows in stature with every play, so why not have it as a leadoff? and b) Mooney sounds at his most deranged, his most spent, as he hurtles through 'Soul Desert'. So a more grandiose entrance, and a more dignified farewell. Now I don't care much for the two 'Deadlock's or 'She Brings the Rain', and 'Tango Whisyman' is good but forgettable, so we're left with a strong EP and some padding. But when you have 'Mother Sky', with it's thunder and lightning and icicles and car crashes and momentum galore, why do you need to worry about anything else? We hear this track being approached like a dub track, showing Czukay's greater interest in studio fuckery. And the back cover photo shows an earnest young Holger, set much closer to the camera than anyone else, holding some wooden traditional thing that appears to be emitting a microphone for young shirtless Damo to croon through. Another reason for my side-b-should-be-side-a theory -- then, 'Mother Sky' would also be Damo's introduction to the world, and it's a hell of an entrance, much more so than 'Deadlock'! This is a dirty old Liberty record pressing that's creaking with surface noise, but it's not actually a bad way to listen to it. Also notable: Irwin Schmidt is holding a banjo in this photo, but I don't hear any (nor is he credited as such). 'Album no. two will be released in the beginning of 1971', and you know what that one is, right?

1 October 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Key Lime Pie' (Virgin)

It's easy for me to think of this as something different than Camper Van Beethoven. Sure, it's most of the same band, and Jonathan Segel's is not reason enough to declare this to be the product of a different band. No, there's something else -something different about this record that makes it stand alone from the rest of their catalogue. So that's why I hesitate to call Key Lime Pie the best Camper Van Beethoven album, but the best and only album by this weird mutant formation that mostly resembles Camper Van Beethoven. Sure, the 'Opening Theme' sounds like a classic bit of CVB ethno-stomping, with maybe an even better raw production style than we've heard in a long time (Dennis Herring, you've finally got it!). But it's when the floortoms-and-brimstone of 'Jack Ruby' kicks in that I feel we have a different serpent entirely. Now, I first heard this record in high school so it conformed to the perfect model of art I imagined at the time; rock music against rock music, embracing neoclassical elements, traces of Americana, the Gold Soundz-grift that tingled me whenever I listened to 80s R.E.M. -- it's all here. In Summer of 1994 I was stuck in that awkward in-between time, unable to drive or do things on my own, forced to spend lots of hot summers in the minivan with my parents driving, my cheapo walkman providing my only escape until the batteries died and things got weird and slow. So I wore out my tape of Key Lime Pie. As we drove through Ohio interstate highways and suburban streets, with my body twisted sideways (ear against the backseat, constrained by seatbelt, looking up through the windows at sky) -- this is why 'Sweethearts' clicked into place. I would feel carsick but maybe just hot; the A/C never worked right, or just maybe didn't reach all the way to the back. I had to press my ear against the seat to keep one side of my $2 headphones from cutting out. I was confused by punk, metal, alternative music, the 60's, the 70's, the 80's, and my own adolescence. How could it all fit together? And did it matter? And at the time, 'Sweethearts' was the most magnificently beautiful blend of music I had ever heard. Greg Lisher's simple guitar lead said everything I wanted to hear; but the actual words were perfect too, steeped in some sort of American nostalgia that I invented myself a place in. 'Jack Ruby' now strikes me as even more than that - a pop song centered on searing darkness. 'All Her Favorite Fruit' is maybe the most celebrated David Lowery song and it's certainly the most confident step forward he ever made -it's delicate, and a bit magical too. And the humour is even more relaxed, as I wouldn't call 'When I Win the Lottery' or 'I Was Born in a Laundromat' particularly silly. The guitars have a heavy presence on Key Lime Pie, but when listening to this, I used to dream of becoming a violin player like Morgan Ficther -- it's funny how years later, I found out she barely even plays on this record apart from 'Pictures of Matchstick Men' (sadly, a hit, despite being the most throwaway track on here). The real violinist, Don Lax, contributes stunning sawing on 'June' (my pick of the litter for 2010) and the 'Opening Theme', and there's a chill that still passes over me when I hear 'Come on Darkness'. So forgive me if I sound a bit overdramatic or nostalgic about Key Lime Pie - it's not perfect, but it's perfect for what it is, and I don't think David Lowery (or any of these players) can ever top it.

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart' (Virgin)

The big sound of Dennis Herring rips out of the speakers here. This is Camper Van Beethoven's major-label debut, the last record with Jonathan Segel, and the first time the band will stack the cards in favour of non-funny songwriting. This is also the first Camper Van Beethoven album I ever heard, and I was lucky enough to check it out from the public library some fateful day in the early 90s. This is a damn solid set of songs, though it pains me to realise now that they are a bit less meaningful to me than they used to be -- despite being probably more meaningful to D. Lowery, get it? For while 'The History of Utah' might be a bit of nonsense, it's was dramatic, inspiring absurdity at one point in my listening days. And now it's easier for me to recall than feeling than to connect with songs like 'One of these Days'. It's like stepping halfway towards true expression - but don't worry, we'll get here. There's still surrealism all over Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. 'Eye of Fatima pt. 1' is an 80s reinvention of Blegvad's 'Casablanca Moon' and 'She Divines Water' is maybe the most perfect merging of sentimental acoustic-janglestrum and epic nonsense. The instrumentals are decent enough - sounding not a million miles away from Telephone Free's sound but with far more baroque production - the power-folk of 'Eye of Fatima pt 2', the rolling 'Waka' and the dirge-like 'The Fool' are all excellent (and the traditional 'O Death' fits better with these than the other vocal songs). 'The Devil Song' has a meandering modal guitar line that makes it a keeper, and the stunning gypsy stomp of 'Tania' (a song for Patty Hearst that's just as much history lesson as fingerpicking madness) is still breathtaking. 'Life is Grand' seemingly addresses their major label sell-out in the same chuckling way that all of their other albums end, bearing a structural resemblance to 'No More Bullshit' but with the maturity of a few more years packed in. The horn sections are the most obvious sound of WEA/Virgin/Atlantic's investment, but on 'Turquoise Jewelry' they sound kinda cheap and fake, like some thin ska-core tune. It's when the band slows it down a notch that I enjoy this record the most -- 'Change Your Mind''s lyric of 'How far can you walk/in a night so restless?' presages the beauty to come one album later. But don't worry, we're almost there.

30 September 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Vampire Can Mating Oven' (Pitch-A-Tent/Rough Trade)

Wonderful title aside, I don't really rank Vampire Can Mating Oven among the essential Camper Van Beethoven releases. For one thing, the 1993 CD Camper Vantiquities contains the entirety of it, but enhanced with a bunch of awesome bonus tracks that I only vaguely remember because I lost my dub of Vantiquities years ago ('Porpoise Mouth', 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and especially 'Crossing Over'). The six songs that were released as this stopgap, pre-major label EP are all kinda throwaway, with maybe the exeception of 'Seven Languages', a crunchy, waka-chika guitar-tune. What's left? 'Heart', which is 'Border Ska' with lyrics, a version of 'Never Go Back' previewing what ends up on OBRS, an old pre-CVB song called 'Ice Cream Everyday', a dark instrumental called 'Processional' and a Ringo Starr cover ('Photograph'). 'Photograph' has its charms, sure, and I guess 'Processional' starts with a pretty cold set of layered melting voices. It's sort of interesting to hear the new wave influence of 'Ice Cream Everyday', but this was long before Dave Lowery found his voice. Of course, filler EPs are filler EPs, and since there can't be too many people clamoring for a vinyl issue of Vantiquities, this will have to do. And the liner notes are hilarious, as to be expected -- particularly the joke about mistranslating 'Heart' as 'Chest' in Serbo-Croat.

Camper Van Beethoven (Pitch-A-Tent/Rough Trade)

You'd think by the psychedelic cover and classic-style riffings that these boys are outing themselves as neo-hippies for the third album. I mean, they're noticing Jerry's daughter (and using a firstname basis with Mr. Garcia) and soon they'll probably start hanging out with Poi Dog Pondering if they're not careful. But flip it over and look at the amateurish scrawl of the Bic pen, and it all makes sense. The target of Lowery's seemingly endless bucket of bile is just being refocused - except it's not endless, it's pretty much the last gasp before major-label recognition and Dennis Herring production. So the sixties return with a vengeance (like herpes), though actually there's so many Led Zeppelin references here maybe we should include the 70s as well. Of course these guys are deconstructing retro/revivalism in their usual way and why not? As long as that shadow is going to loom over rock music, it's fair game. 'Good Guys and Bad Guys' was one of the iconic CVB tunes for this teenager, but now it sounds just a bit too trite for me. Though the triumphant keyboard/violin part and feelgood lyrics are certainly delivered with tongue embedded firmly in cheek, I think their edge is gone. Political satire works best when you don't dig too deeply, or maybe that's the point. I still love this third album, just in different ways, and largely due to the more progressive and experimental edges on the surrealism. Case in point - 'The History of Utah'. Yeah, it's inherently as nonsensical as any of the Telephone Free jams, but with a relentless minor-key sawing and bizarre song structure. 'We Love You' is the best version of 'Devil Went Down to Georgia' I've ever heard, and 'Shut Us Down' continues their "last song on the album" style - simple, anthemic, and self-mocking. Some of the instrumentals are a bit tempered - the cover of 'Interstellar Overdrive' notwithstanding that this heretic believes to surpass the original - there's more of a tendency towards folk and country exaggerations, and why not? Eugene Chadbourne is billed as a full band member here and if you listen to 'Hoe Yourself Down' you'll hear why. But 'Stairway to Heavan (sic)' is a dysfunctional, overstudio'd fuckup of 'Mao Reminisces' and it's kind of awesome. If you want to hear beautiful songwriting you're going to have to wait, cause apart from maybe the beautiful (perhaps misplaced?) 'Folly' and 'Une Fois' (which is brief and unintelligible), the lyrics are staying distinctly distanced from human emotions. Jonathan Segel's 'Still Wishing to Course' is maybe the exception, but it's a bit of a dud, which would have been better suited to his Storytelling solo album. 'Peace + Love' is also a winner, though it's really the CVB version of 'The Murder Mystery' (or 'The Gift') with Victor Krummenacher (I think) narrating this dark tale. But I always like experiments like this, and there's some great backwards guitar soloing here that I assume are Mr. Chadbourne in action. There are times when I forget that this is supposed to be a rock band, and this is the album that most reminds me of that. But maybe I want CVB to be something else?

Camper Van Beethoven - 'II & III' (Pitch-A-Tent)

This is where early Camper peaks, as I said in the last post - the dark/psych edge is much more pronounced, but it's no less eclectic. And there's lots of short songs, the way I like it. Let's talk about the instrumentals first - 'Abundance' opens up and it's to me, the signature violin-driven Jonathan Segel piece in the CVB repetoire. I don't know why this one jumps out as me as being so much better than we heard on Telephone Free, except for maybe the weird melting violin solo/bridge. And 'Turtlehead' is a a bit of Sun City Girls-styled spazz-core with another elliptical, middle-Eastern style breakdown in the middle. '4 Year Plan' reprises the ska-style rhythm guitar heard a few times on the last album, but with a very bright crisp recording. Though this record was recorded in multiple studio sessions and with no consistent drummer, it sounds really cohesive - and I guess if Telephone Free was the culmination of a zillion early lineups with twenty different members, II & III is at least a step closer to solid. 'Dust Pan' and 'ZZ Top Goes to Egypt' are beautifully evocative for being brief rock instrumentals,and while 'Circles' may not be strictly instrumental (with backwards singing, a trick they'll employ again on the third album), it's a winner. Now, vocally, Lowery is certainly continuing the witty goofball lyrics, but there's less of a focus on taking the piss out of the punk underground and maybe he's turning his lens towards a more worldly focus. 'No More Bullshit' ends the record wryly commenting 'No more MTV/No more rock stars' before embarking on an epic instrumental jam, worthy of the greatest guitar gods. And sure, there's some chuckles throughout just about every song. I place the misanthropy of 'Don't Go To Goleta' somehow above the nonsense of 'The Day that Lassie Went to the Moon'. Few others would probably make such a distinction, but the fine line of humour in music is tred as carefully as possible to the dark side here, and it never goes over. 'Gonna dress and act like Lou Reed' (in 'Down and Out') is an astute cultural observation here. And the mock-aggression of 'We're a Bad Trip' is absolutely classic status here. (Nerd alert - this copy has the slow version of that tune, which means (I guess) that this is the first pressing, and also I think that Crispy Dersen doesn't play on my copy at all). What a great song, and I prefer it slow - you can hear the pulsing keyboards better, and the descending guitar solo has a bit more breathing room, and no one has ever put the word 'hors d'oeuvres' into a song so well (Roy Harper may have titled a song as such but balked on the actual lyrics). But let's commend the move away from the ha-ha: 'Sad Lovers Waltz' is a CVB classic, and still moving because of it's naivete and amateurishness. One step for anger and one step for pain, indeed. 'Sometimes' is the ultimate Paisley renaissance piece, buried in hesitation and honesty, and arranged with the perfect hazyness. But my absolute favourite track of this album, and probably the most underrated tune in the entire CVB canon, is 'Form Another Stone'. I think it's overlooked because it's buried at the end of this album, which is probably the least well-known of their work, and lacks the ha-ha punchline or the obvious pop hook. But this is a fireball of a track, and one that I will continually cite as inspiration for my young guitar-addled brain. Jonathan Segel's 'Chain of Circumstance' isn't half-bad either. The simple duotone cover and general low-budget feel of this record is another thing that I find amazing -- it's weird that this came after their big hit ('Skinheads') and that they self-released it, but looking at it as a finished product, it's a magnificent statement. If I had come across this LP when I was 14 (instead of a dubbed cassette version, which is what I subsisted on for years until eBay came around) I would have been blown away, because this would have represented everything I dreamt of about "the underground". Hindsight shows this to be far from obscure or difficult, but that doesn't diminish it's greatness in the slightest.

26 September 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Telephone Free Landslide Victory' (Independent Projects)

Telephone Free Landslide Victory is a great way to open up the Camper Van Beethoven section of this vinyl accumulation, particularly this original pressing on Independent Projects (number 824 out of 125), which is adorned absolutely beautiful screenprinted artwork. And this is the way the album should be heard -- not that 2004 CD reissue that they screwed up the sequencing on! The Camper Van Beethoven conundrum is pretty much laid out here both visually and musically. The screenprinting is aesthetically elegeant, but with a jarring dayglo orange ink juxtaposed against the muted earthen tones underneath. Likewise, Dave Lowery's bitingly droll songs are a bit confusing when juxtaposed with the instrumental ethnicky Morricone-kinda sounds that fill up more than half of this album. It integrates to me, in my brain, but I've been listening to this album for over 15 years. You gotta understand how appealing this was to me as a teenager - humour, pop hooks, and attitude with musical chops and open-mindedness. And most people never hear anything beyond 'Take the Skinheads Bowling' and 'Wasted', but that's fine, cause those are pretty killer jams. I of course went the wrong way 'round and heard the CVB version before the Black Flag original, so I was less impressed by Jonathan Segel's perfect rendering of Ginn's guitar solo than I should have been. It wasn't until years later after getting into psychedelic music, both dark and bright, that I realised how excellent early CVB is at rejoicing in psychedelic forms. Though this emerges more on the (superior, in my opinion) II & III, listening to 'Oh No!' is a good start. The instrumentals are bouncy and confident, with Chris Molla's guitar leads or Segel's keyboards often interacting in a way that is demonstratively brash. 'Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China' is maybe their most-loved instrumental tune, which is why it stayed constant in their setlists all the way to the present day, and why not? It's a great song, one that I tried to play violin along to back when I was learning violin. '9 of Disks' has searing, minor key voicings and a weird, spooky ambience that makes it another enduring classic. 'Skinhead Stomp' blends perfectly into 'Tina', the aburdist folkform reduction complete with goofball singing. It's a trace of Sun City Girls though I guess they probably weren't orbiting each other yet. The story is that these was a ragtag bunch of musical prankster college kids, inhabiting the same cultural space as Black Flag and whatnot, but quickly pushing against the limitations of that culture and extending their middle finger through musical iconoclasm. I don't think that's untrue, but I think there's more to iconoclasm than just having funny lyrics that reference kicker boots and the Circle Jerks. 'Payed Vacation - Greece' might be more of an F.U. than anything else, but were they aware of this at the time? When viewed as a whole career, one narrative in the Camper Van Beethoven story is the emerging confidence of D. Lowery as a brilliant expressive songwriter. On Telephone Free, he's still hiding behind a smirk the whole time. Though 'Take the Skinheads Bowling' was a college radio hit not just because it was funny and nonsensical, but because it is a brilliant pop song. I still get insanely happy when I hear it, and I've heard it a million times. Look, I love this stuff far more than I should (and I know far more about this band that most people would even care). It's true that I'd take Key Lime Pie's 'June' over 'Where the Hell is Bill?' 10 times out of 10, but that doesn't mean I don't have soft spot in my heart for this. And 'The Ambiguity Song' should get mentioned here since it didn't elsewhere -- I fell asleep to the (original) CD of this album one night in 1996 -- my CD player was screwed up and that song looped all night long, which probably explains a lot about my mental state today. I had a dream, it was about nothing!

25 September 2010

Neil Campbell - 'These Premises Are No Longer Bugged' (Giardia/Fusetron)

One's gotta think that this must count as 'early' N. Campbell by now, with these recordings made almost 15 years ago. Though maybe 'early mid-period' is more accurate, for Vibracathedral Orchestra was just an embryonic idea then, though we hear a preview of N. Campbell's interest in layers and tonal harmonic convergence here that would later soar majestically through said Orchestra. And his post-VCO career has been noteworthy as well, but what else can you expect from such a one-man musical force? 'Change login zeds' opens up These Premises Are No Longer Bugged with a mess of dissonant tones and bowing, with far too much surface noise on my copy to hear any bits of beauty. It's midway between the A-Band clang and the ur-drone he will later purvey, but the aesthetic is clear enough. And like all of the best Leedsian ecstatic drone slices, it begins after it's already started, or at least what we hear - a tape splice is the gateway. We're spliced into the significantly darker 'Clump' which has some murmuring gongs underneath a scratchy violin interplay, a far more malevolent track than we heard before. It's long, and it doesn't so much settle down as take it's intensity to a realm that redefines normal. By the end, the moaning seaship drones and feedback feel comforting, and the anarchic top layer becomes irrelevant flostam underneath the warmth and clatter. 'Guitar trio 5/4/97' is the most aggressive barrage of guitar noise that I've ever heard from N. Campbell, though it's brief and soon followed by Side 1's sunset 'Monument Irvine'. The nutty thing about this record is the vocal-driven Phil Spector tune, 'Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love?' at the beginning of the flipside. It's hard to tell how earnest the singing is, as there's something a tad tossed-off about the 'yeah yeah yeah yeah' , but the melody is sweet, and the atonal scratching strings work well with cheap keyboards and bells - it's a pretty piece of fractured psychedelia in Neil's hands, and definitely a hidden gem in his catalogue. The tune extends out into a long bit of minimal repetition not unlike early Richard Youngs solo pieces (Advent and especially Festival come to mind). The rest of the album is the title track. This is another searing slice of horizontal sound, brash with energy and metallic in texture. The volume is significantly louder, enough to bury the surface noise on this lousy pressing, and there's a few currents that tease my ears more than others. A sense of motion never ends, and it's again an immense maelstrom to come out of just one soul. There's overdubs galore on this album, cause this is a true solo effort, though he fakes it well, as it really feels like a group of like-minded tranceheads. I'd like to make some grand analogy about the rise of Tony Blair and New Labour, and these being the sound of changing Britain led by a star in the North. But the reality is, I hear none of that here - like most of the greatest work of these Northern no-goodniks, it's timeless and universal.

23 September 2010

Camberwell Now - 'The Ghost Trade' (Ink)

This is the second time I've journeyed through these six songs in the past week (see the Glass Mastered Cinderblock review of the discography CD) but I ain't complaining. I love owning this on vinyl even though the sound gets noticeably muffled towards the end of each side -- my turntable suddenly out of alignment or a bad mastering job? I rarely prefer the sound of a CD but this might be one case where the LP fails. It's most audible in 'Wheat Futures', where the sibilance of Hayward's croaking is a bit too piercing. I thought vinyl was supposed to have better low-end? Maybe Ink Records didn't have much of a budget for a mastering engineer. Actually the real reason is that I tend to jump around to the faster, more aggressive parts of this album, and when I have the turntable going, it skips when I hit the floor. What haven't I already said? Did I rave about the kazoo part in 'The Ghost Trade'? This is one part where the dirty vinyl sound is preferable, cause who doesn't like a fuzzy kazoo? There's some tape manipulations transitioning from the kazoo breakdown into the xylophone coda and it's just the right amount of damage to lay over a tune without totally disrupting the flow. But it all comes back to 'Working Nights', where the bassline is like a woodpecker beating against a shopping mall made of granite. The power of the songwriting here is the way the speeds shift; Camberwell Now mastered this "suddenly, we'll shift from warp speed to half-speed" thing, in a way that This Heat never managed. But the art-rocker in me loves everything, as there's traces of the magnificent 70s all over this mid-80s masterpiece. The harmonised voices in 'Sitcom' are a good example of this. Camberwell Now are like "secret" prog-rock -- they took things forward somehow and it's marvelously accessible. I've grown accustomed to 'Greenfingers' following on my All's Well CD, so when 'The Ghost Trade' ends with a melting, shimmering wall of keyboard clouds and some faint murmurs of free improv underneath, it feels like a million years of silence are about to begin. But that's why it's nice to have on vinyl, cause you can flip it over!