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26 December 2011

Miles Davis - 'Live-Evil' (Columbia)

It's to the other side of Miles Davis now, with this record proclaiming it's inner evil, or at least un-goodness.  But Live-Evil is just a palindrome, a title to reflect the dark-tinged yet inevitably circular musings found on these four sides.  There's slightly different personel on different cuts but the liner notes are written in a long, horizontal format that makes it too much effort for me to sort it out.  But all the titans are here - McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Airto Moreira, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Here's what's really different from Sketches of Spain - this is rock music, with an aggressive rhythm section (drums are either William Cobham or Jack deJohnette; Michael Henderson, Ron Carter or Dave Holland on bass).  And you know what, Henderson's rockmonotony on 'What I Say' actually takes the cake over the more nuanced bass playing of the bigger names.  This lets Davis and later McLaughlin lay more flabbergasting solos without too much discordance.  It's the dictionary-definition of fusion, but it creeps close to the Dark Side without ever fully leaping in.  The fidelity is hot and I've always preferred this to Bitches Brew though both have that strong, surging riff to start off ('Sivad' here, which lays it on thick and lets the piece swell into a juggernaut, when you can actually feel restraint leaking out of the grooves).  We get solos galore here - deJohnette's lengthy, plodding one on side two is so brightly recorded that it really soaks into the air, and when Jarrett brings in the funky keys to reprise the theme, all is right in the world.  Jarrett also kills it on 'Funky Tonk', with a long, shimmering section of just he and Moreira, which burns like a warm winter radiator.  These are the most clichéd passages - the ones that rely on groove, momentum, and rhythm like we expect a jazz-fusion record to - but since it's records like this that define the genre, it all gets a pass.  But at it's most inventive, Live-Evil croaks, creaks and flounders under it's own rhythmic stress, like a lumbering behemoth of madness.  When Miles tries to cool it off - 'Little Church' and 'Nem un Talvez', for example - the elegiac tones just set up more distrust when the band comes back in.  But it's these moments of respite that make Live-Evil so complete, and such an oddball mishmash of live sessions.  It flows, and it's cohesive, despite being mashed together from different sessions and with different personnel.  Two LPs is a lot, and by the end of side 4, which is dominated by the lengthy 'Inamorata', I'm beached.  It's a record as pregnant with ideas as the fertile African goddess on the cover, and all of the swampy electric licks really create a beast that rages out of control.

Miles Davis - 'Sketches of Spain' (Columbia)

I've had this record for years but I never, ever listen to it. When I'm in the mood I pull out the other Miles Davis record I have, but today it's "hitting the spot".  You would think these Iberian-inspired melodies would conjure sun-parched images of Mediterranean cliffs and luscious scenery, but I'm staring out the window of a cold, grey day in Northern Europe and finding it equally beautiful as I stare at bare trees, pointing into a featureless wash of sky.  Davis's trumpet is of course the featured instrument, though he wrote none of the compositions.  It's mixed high over the session orchestra, and has a nice warm rolling momentum over the string washes.  The majority of the first side is a long piece by Joaquín Rodrigo, and it's Anadlusian grandeur is emphasised by the dramatic swells.  There's nothing jazz here until the second track, 'Will o' the Wisp', which has a swing to it.  Throughout Sketches of Spain, there's this little hand percussion that cuts through the whole mix - like an egg shaker or something.  It really grounds what could become an otherwise overblown sense of grandeur, and I award Gil Evans for his compositional taste.  Sketches of Spain is a certainly as far away from the exploratory, risk-taking Miles Davis as possible, but it's a textbook example of how trumpet can be a lead instrument.  That it was released in the late 1940's, just after the Spanish Civil War, makes me wonder about context and what sorts of statements Evans and Davis were trying to make.  We can turn to Charlie Haden and Carla Bley's Liberation Music Orchestra for a more overt form of that, but I want to believe this is more than postcard musical tourism.

2 November 2011

John Davis - 'Blue Mountains' (Shrimper)

I usually try to post an image that actually looks like my copy, but in this case I'm lazy so I'm just using the only one I could find, which is the CD cover I guess.  The only difference is that instead of the title appearing left of the flower picture, it is split to be above and below.  So, imagine.  And then imagine a world where the effeminate open-folk stylings of John Davis are given a more solid indie-rock backbone, but enough to (mostly) maintain the spacious fragility of his songwriting.  Side 1 has two hit singles, or they would-be if anyone ever heard them - 'Jeep Cherokee' and 'I'll Burn'.  I should probably add that in addition to the general public having to hear these, they would have to really welcome a change in popular tastes to be proper "hits". But I find them catchy as hell; toe-tapping, too.  In between you get 'I Took Flight' which is about as beautiful and lyrical as anything I've ever heard from Davis.  'Sadness, well I knew ye...' and that's a lovely couplet;; but then, the aforementioned 'I'll Burn' which is (possibly) about Davis being thrust into a deep-fryer!  Blue Mountains is such an excellent fucking record that it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  It's a mixture of the studio stuff, recorded with Shrimper producer-god Bob Durkee, and some home recordings which resemble the fragile freakpulse of Pure Night.  There's nothing on these besides guitar or maybe organ ('Tethers' ends side 1 in a beautiful malestrom of darkness).  Flipping the record over we get more of a studio side, with some really singsong jams - 'The Way You Touch Me Makes Me Laugh' and the really underreated 'Ready', which reminds me of Warn Defever's songwriting for His Name is Alive from around the same era.  I'm not sure if John Davis was making a stab at commercial success here, though the hit Folk Implosion song that predated this may have had some influence.  Despite the more regular rhythm and hi-fi production, it still feels really homemade and honest.  His lispy vocals are rather uncompromising, though that word usually means an extreme/aggressive aesthetic and here, they're just, please forgive me, really wimpy. But my gosh, I love Blue Mountains, and Davis has been silent ever since which truly, truly saddens me.  You can't help but love a record with a song called 'I Freaked Out Like a Big Truck', and of course I have a major major soft spot for the whole Shrimper/Inland empire/bi-fi scene (though Davis is a New Englander as this title indicates).  This scene (which also includes Refrigerator, Simon Joyner, and the Mountain Goats, all of whom I love and will get to eventually) strikes a perfect balance and came at the right time; clearly people making amateurish-yet-sophisticated, romantic-yet-contemporary songs in their bedroom is still prevalent, and the democratising of this all these days, via myspace and the death of the music industry etc -- make the bi-fi scene  even more awesome to me, because it was happening in the mid-late 90s..  I think what did it for me (besides the fact this music hit me when I was aged 16-20, which was perfect formative timing) is the way these artists also took over the means of production.  Dennis Callaci dubbing tapes for Shrimper is a zillion times more inspiring to me than uploading tracks to Soundcloud.  Maybe this self-created scene seems better to me because it wasn't so easy; the Internet wasn't used, or maybe only in the most infant form; I realise this shouldn't make the music itself inherently better, but I'm just trying to figure out my own biases, I guess.

John Davis - 'Pure Night' (Shrimper)

At one point, John Davis sounded so extreme to me.  The songs were so loose, so open, and so fey, that there was nothing for me to latch onto.  Over time I came to love this;  Pure Night is pretty much the Davis M.O, laid as bare as you could be.  It's an LP that was modeled after a cassette, as tape space/hiss is the main ingredient.  As minimal as this is, I'm not saying it's mostly silence - just music that is very aware of how to breathe, breathe, breathe.  'To Care Today' is the one foray into rock music, or at least it has a drumbeat, but even that feels loose and empty.  Most of the songs are just fragments, a few words, some plucked strings, maybe a phrase like 'Looking out/over fields of green' (from closing track 'Blind Love').  But Jandek this is not - Davis has a strong musicality that adheres to conventional elements of beauty, just in a totally unwrapped style.  There's a few moments of intensity - 'Angels surround' is perhaps the masterpiece, where the concrete-like tape collage and various folk/rock influences converge into a sea of madness.  'No One Around' builds on a strummed acoustic chord progression, being my mixtape choice from Pure Night.  Davis's world is barely held together, yet utterly beautiful.  Pure Impressionism may have been a more descriptive title, though the enticing glow of night skies infuses every song.  The guitars sound piercing and flanged at times, probably due to the warbling cassette 4-track this was recorded on.  I'm a sucker for music that conjures up these moments - quiet, majestic and still, perhaps a bit adolescent in the way they reflect wonder and awe.

31 October 2011

Dando Shaft - 'An Evening With...' (Decca)

Hey, I fucked up!  I thought this was the second or third Dando Shaft release, since it isn't self-titled (and is so much better)!  But actually, we're looking at their debut, before Polly Bolton joined the band, and when Martin Jenkins is really much more of a leader.  So really, this should have come before the last post, but such inaccuracies are a true joy in the Internet anyway.  There's singing on every track except for the lovely 'Drops of Brandy', and the band relies much more on cellos and violins to make a chamber-music feel.  The songs are longer, with four per side, and the highlight, 'September Wine', creeps in slowly over some hand bells before unfolding into a murky ballad that could be mid-90s slowcore in places.  There isn't a breakdown of exact credits but the band is probably mostly the same lineup as the next one, yet way less bouncy and fast.  Taking time to stretch out really helps Dando Shaft, in my opinion, even if it puts them closer to the 'folk' side of folk-rock.  'In the Country' gets into a gentle strum that walks slowly across the vinyl, with flute filling out the hippie quotient and lyrics about appreciating nature -- could it get any better?  'Cat Song' has a slightly music hall lean, with charmingly pedestrian lyrics as well.  There's so much to like about this record - it's remarkable in it's unremarkableness; psychedelic in it's pure niceness, and there's a hint of menace to the chord progressions on 'Rain' and 'Cold Wind'.  The former is a weird death song, I think, and 'End of the Game' has a similar sense of resignation (or else it's just about the weekend).  Whomever sings on most of side 1 really has a Tim Buckley feel, but I still feel like there are so many Bert Janchisms in the guitar riffing.  Maybe I just like this record cause it's on nicer vinyl - Decca's pressing is lovely, and the very thickly arranged songs (which Jenkins is responsible for) always breathe, cause the dynamic range is just right. 

Dando Shaft (RCA/Neon)

The shaggy longhairs clustered together on the back sleeve of this record would make you think we're about to listen to some roaring psych or Krautrock; beards, vacant stares, and a blurryness to the photo all suggest many Dionysian nights.  But Dionysian Knights is more like it; Dando Shaft most resemble a frantic Pentangle clone, mostly due to the jazzy inflections in the Roger Bullen's bass playing.  There's no drum kit, but congas on most tracks, and quickly plucked strings are the essence of their sound.  It's hard to see who the leader of Dando Shaft is, as everyone is so multi-instrumental, and vocals are shared by everyone.  The most common motif is the shredding mandolin of Martin Jenkins over the two guitar attack of Dave Cooper and Kev Dempsey; parts of Dando Shaft are actually actually punishing in the speed of the licks, such as 'Railway'.  When Polly Bolton sings it enhances their place in that whole milieu, though she's no Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior or Jackie McShea.  Percussion as I mentioned before is mostly congas, and songs like 'Pass it On' get a slightly irritating "Kum-Bay-Yah" jamgrass feel that is definitely a product of its time.  But then 'Waves Upon the Ether' is masterful, with different vocal lines pulling melodies in different directions, much as the title would indicate.  There's almost a bit too much 'kitchen sink syndrome' going on here, as the group seems to lack a unified voice.  But perhaps this type of democracy is what they were going for.  Cooper's 'Prayer' ends the record, a half-minute of non-denominational solo yearning that is actually a nice cap to things.  Unfortunately this is on the horrible "dynaflex" vinyl that RCA was so fond of in the early 70s, and the sound quality is resultantly thin.  I know this has gotten the 180g reissue treatment in recent years, but I can't quite justify that expenditure cause Dando Shaft is far closer to "good" than "great".

12 October 2011

Leo Cuypers - 'Theatre Music/Jan Rap En Z'n Maat' (BV Haast)

I love Dutch jazz and one of the things I like the most about it is how melodic and beautiful it can be while being simultaneously exploratory - brash, confident, and sugary all at the same time.  Leo Cuypers I first encountered when Atavistic did that Unheard Music Series because they issued the Heavy Days are Here Again CD (which we'll get to on the other blog, soon).  His style was wonderfully melodic, but also really fast and dense.  This record is really just called Theatre Music (and it's exactly that) but side 2 is one long piece, belonging to one production called Jan Rap En Z'n Maat, and the spine has only that listed, so I'm not sure exactly what to call this.  The record is mostly a trio of Cuypers on piano, Arjen Gorter on bass, and Martin van Duynhoven on drums - but with Willem Breuker on side 2 with his various reeds.  Breuker produced the whole thing also.  The four tracks on side one must work well as theatre music as they are janty and rolling.  The trio is tight and there's times when the ivories are coursing with electricity, making me want to lie down and just feel the colours wash over me.  The flip side is almost narratively cohesiv.  The opener, 'Jan Rap at 8'30" a.m.' begins with the same trio as side one, with thick clusters of major thirds and perfect fourths, chopped out ferociously but without aggression.  When Breuker comes in, about halfway through the 7 minutes of the piece, it's triumphant.  Cuypers supports Breuker's sax with a bed of contrapuntal chords, and then when they temporarily go in diferent directions it's mesmerising.  Other highlights include 'The House (3 scenes)', which features some thick fuzzy synth underneath the piano, the first of 3 repetitions of a melody in three different arrangements - and the other long piece, 'Triste', a slow, moody exploration based around a rigid, descending theme.  This is the centerpiece of the side and indicates a dramatic shift, cause remember, this is theatre music, right?  It's revisited on synthesizer in the LP's closing minute, a fitting Vincent Price-style conclusion to this LP (and, incidentally, to my C-section [no, don't say it]).  Gorter and van Doynhoven are so crisp throughout that everything is on-point and accurate, yet somehow I wouldn't classify Theatre Music in the "Appolonian" side of the jazzsphere - there's far too much liquidity between the precision.

4 October 2011

Chris Cutler and Fred Frith - 'Live in Prague and Washington' (Ré)

The cover art to this suggests all of the ghosts of the eastern bloc - or at least, semi-Gothic Polish cinema posters, Kafka, and all that goes with it.  The 4500 Czechs are credited for 'Ambieance and opinions" alongside Chris and Fred here, as this is an unedited improv concert from 1979.  Cutler is a freak on this, clattering all about the stereo field in a manner that's unusually haphazard for him.  You can feel that he and Frith are really letting go.  There's a part in the middle when it locks into a proper 'groove', as Frith's guitar emanates a creeping, uncanny pulse.  But the flailing drumsticks are the core of everything - the guitar sounds like it's buzzing out of a cheap amp, and when Frith does the fingertip-dancing he's most known for, it feels like a manic counterpoint to the earlier groove.  Though he's credited with electronic drums in addition to regular ones, it doesn't feel motorik or tech-heavy.  Overall, it's a dark, dissonant and I daresay messy foray for these guys, who were enmeshed in their Art Bears project at the time.  I guess the pace and intensity rivals a tune like 'Rats and Monkeys' but without Dagmar's voice to anchor it, things are definitely caked in a freeform crust.  Side B is an excerpt from a concert in Washington but it continues the 45rpm squeal, albeit more slow and open.  Long arcs of feedback bend and shimmer, and there's a breath that is missing from side 1 entirely.  The ending turns into a traditional folk jig, with Frith on the violin and Cutler pitter-pattering the momentum up.  The crowd noise is there throughout both sides - in fact, I'm surprised at how lo-fi this recording is  overall, given that I associate Cutler with being somewhat uptight about fidelity.  I'm happy for it though - this rawness is something that really drives the record and shows a side not otherwise heard.

29 September 2011

The Curtains - 'Fast Talks' (Thin Wrist)

Thin Wrist is an interesting label ; I discovered them cause of the two great Burning Star Core albums and then picked up a few other releases from around the same time.  Curtains was a band that featured some members of Deerhoof but was closer to the skittery, rambunctious sounds of US Maple or some late Skin Graft-label stuff.  There wasn't any aggression to it, so Curtains end up having an almost twee Beefheart feel.  It's all instrumental and the guitars and thin and wiry.  Keyboard pop in and out and there's a bouncy, tapping feel to the drumkit.  In sixteen songs, Curtains sketch out a musical world that is always about to sputter out of control but never does.  At their best bits ('The Divers'), it feels like vultures circling prey, but drunk.  This type of instrumental, brainy rock is something very much from my past and not anything I'd pull out, but this listen after howevermany years (about ten, amazingly) was kind of refreshing -- ah, yes, people do this kind of thing -- they always have, and they always will, and Curtains do it particularly well.

25 September 2011

Curlew (Landslide)

The first Curlew album is really ugly to look at but has some great sounds inside.  I always though of Davey Williams as an integral member of Curlew, but here, he's absent - the guitar duties are handled by Nicky Skopelitis and they're quite understated, particularly on the more composed pieces.  Now, how much you enjoy this record is probably directly related to how much you enjoy the electric bass stylings of Bill Laswell.  I'm OK with Laswell -- someone one described him to me as a "lottery ticket", meaning you either hit it big (Massacre Killing Time) or you lose completely.  That's a bit harsh, sure, and I don't think we should really fault the guy for playing bass a bit differently.  Remember, this was years before Seinfeld destroyed the slap-bass sound forever.  And to be honest, Laswell is really exploratory, particularly on the Cartwright-composed tunes that dominate the record.  But my love is for Tom Cora, who sounds absolutely great here, getting jiggy with Cartwright on 'Bitter Thumbs' and offering his own meandering composition 'Rudders', which has the playful edge of great Dutch free jazz.  The Cartwright compositions are good too, though - there's enough openness and irregularity to disrupt any tendencies toward fusion-rock wank.  If this was a hockey team, Cartwright and Cora would be the exciting wingers, Laswell the center, and I guess Bill Bacon and Skopelitis the defensemen, though I guess that isn't enough people to have a goalie.  There's four short, collectively improvised cuts that are actually my favourites on the album.  'But Get It' on side two resembles the free folk/No Neck kinda sound somewhat, and 'Binoculars' is wonderful directionless and where Skopelitis gets pleasantly scratchy with his axe.  This was recorded in Woodstock, NY and live at CBGB's, so it's pretty funny to think about how un-rock this is despite physically occurring in two of the most famous locations ever.  

19 September 2011

The Cure - 'Pornography' (Fiction)

Pornography is a deliberately bleak, dense record. All of the songs sound pretty much the same, and the band, still a trio, sounds huge thanks to overdubs, a scrupulous use of reverb, and the slow, plodding rhythms that eventually propel this record through its eight songs. Robert Smith has taken his great step away from the bouncy frontman of 'Boys Don't Cry' and towards the posturing foolishness of the late 80s. But here, it's balanced - the doom and gloom isn't that far beyond Factory output of the same period, though when the opening lyric of your album is 'It doesn't matter if we all die', it's pretty much the stuff "goth" is made up. I like Pornography a lot because of how relentless it is, and how it sits on the border of being overly sincere romantic body poetry and genuinely edgy yet bare sentiment from the imagistic planet that the Swans came from. Either way, it's honest, and Smith's guitar playing is just brilliant here. He's kept the long, sinewy notes of the first record but taken away the attack, without compromising the mood. It's decay all along and the monotonous rhythm (I think I criticised drummer Laurence Tolhurst for being kinda weak before, though really it's perfect, and while he moved to keyboards after this record, I sorta miss the plodding). Big hair and makeup are just around the corner, but I generally stop here, except whenever I hear 'In Between Days' I can't deny it's greatness.

16 September 2011

The Cure - 'Boys Don't Cry' (PVC)

And here we go again, through most of the same record. Though the awesome Hendrix cover has been removed (too much for American audiences to handle, perhaps?) we do get 'Killing an Arab', a song which I don't need to hear again, despite how cool I thought it was in high school when I was reading Camus. Actually, in the Mark Pauline interview in the RE/Search Pranks book (aka, my bible) he talks about how he dressed up all of these dead pigeons like Arabs and then built some machine/assembly line to decapitate them as a performance piece, while playing the Cure song, and no one quite knew how to interpret it. Hmmm. Anyway, I certainly didn't mind hearing 'Accuracy' or 'Grinding Halt' again - it's great how poppy, yet dour, these tunes are; just enough to sing infectiously after the record has stopped playing. I couldn't really tell much distinction between the mastering/fidelity of the two pressings; they're really interchangeable, and it just comes down to whether or not you want to hear 'Plastic Passion' (I don't) or 'Boys Don't Cry' (I do; so it's a coinflip for me). The artwork reminds me a bit of Ashley's Automatic Writing but there's nothing that avant-garde to be found in these grooves. It's silly how two of the three Cure albums I own are mostly the same, but that's my fault for not snatching up the (very good, from what I remember) Faith and Seventeen Seconds when I had a chance.

The Cure - 'Three Imaginary Boys' (Fiction)

I'm not a huge Cure fan but I love these early records - the evolution from edgy, distant post-punk into lush, romantic goth-pop is interesting to follow, and it's hard to stop enjoying 'Grinding Halt' or '10:15 on a Saturday Night' even after all the times I've heard it played in clubs and bars. There's not any track titles to be found here, but the artwork has great iconography - the domestic, middle-class isolation comes through in the brilliant cover and the collage of oddities on the back. This is really reflected in Robert Smith's voice, which is honest and strained. Listen to his whispers on 'Subway Song', his fingersnaps -- these barely post-adolescent artistic gropes are beautiful in their fragility. They actually can play though - even though the drumming is the weak link, it's there and unwavering, which is all we should ask for. The 'Foxy Lady' cover sees the link between the shard-like guitar of the Cure's peers and the Hendrixian antecedents. And while we're gonna visit most of these songs again immediately because I also have Boys Don't Cry, I'm not dreading it - these are anthems of their era, and they're almost overlooked by the later shadow of the Cure's black-lipstick teenage followers. The guitar playing is absolutely great here, whether slicing ('Accuracy') or chorus-laded ('Three Imaginary Boys') -- it's angled and strident without being too heavy. Actually, the space left between the notes is my favourite thing about early Cure - there's so much hesitation, a reflection of the boredom and frustration that characterised the times, though without resorting to teenage aggro tactics.

15 September 2011

George Crumb - 'Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)' (Nonesuch)

Crumb's composition is for two amplified pianos and percussion, and it sounds very much like the stretched night sky, with twinkles of light and the occasional meteor. The structure, as Crumb writes on the cover, is five-part; 1, 3 and 5 are the main themes and the interludes (separated by instrument-type) are dream interventions. So taken as a whole, we get a grand sense of wonder - a journeyman captivated by the natural environment, and fulfilling the greatest promise of electro-acoustic music. The pianos sound like pianos, mostly, and the energy of electricity coursing through them really does "amplify" the decay and fluctuations of the notes. There's trills, dips, and dots; the integration with the various percussive tools hits it's peak on track 3, 'The Advent'. There's actually a great deal of percussion in Crumb's battery, according to the liner notes, all played by the duo of Raymond DesRoches and Richard Fitz. "Metal thunder-sheet" is clearly the screaming that comes across the sky here, but there's also some kalimbas, alto recorder, slide-whistles, and the "jawbone of an ass" (really!). So as focused as this sounds on wax, Crumb is actually drawing from a lot of different sources. It's hard to know how structured the playing is - certainly the closing 'Music of the Starry Night' with it's waves of chop-chop piano glass is tight, but 'The Advent' is fluid and improvised. Crumb does explicitly thank the performer for their "critically important role ... in the evolution of any new musical language". I've always loved electroacoustic composition from this era (this is 1975) because of the critical balance between technological know-how and pure exploratory wonder. The imagery of the night sky is surely universal, and maybe a bit easy compared to postmodern symphonic works that are inspired by rutabegas, artificial intelligence research or clam chowder -- but that universality stirs an easy soup in my soul. I remember find this record over a decade ago in a very low-quality secondhand shop that was all CDs downstairs and forgotten, mostly worthless vinyl upstairs. I spent a hot summer afternoon combing through the entire room and found this and only this to reward me, but for $1.99 it was truly a bargain.

12 September 2011

Cro-Magnon (ESP)

For the few of you that actually follow these pages, you'll notice some large gaps in-between posts. Usually these are due to unexpected life circumstances - traveling, moving, working -- because (surprise, surprise) I don't do Disclocated Underbite and related pages as a full-time paid job. But sometimes I hit a lull because I'm trying to wrap my head around a single record, and I can't properly put down my words about it and move onto the next one until I've given it several, sometimes numerous, goes around the ol' Pro-Ject Debut III. Cro-Magnon is DEFINITELY a bottleneck record. It's been on my shelf for years, unplayed, the only time I ever actually listened to it a few years before I bought it (when I was consuming all things ESP). My memory was that it was intentionally primitive, as were all rock-leaning ESP titles (The Godz!!), and maybe the spiritual predecessor of No Neck Blues Band and their ilk. This was a bit of an incorrect assessment, I do believe -- going back to it now, I'm floored. This sounds like some contemporary noise kids have access to a time machine, so they went back and dropped this artefact and then disappeared. But I don't mean to say that Cro-Magnon sounds like a mediocre DOD-pedal noise band - if my time-travel theory is true, then this is the cream of the crop, because this record slays pretty much everything that is happening today. I know this is sometimes called Orgasm and sometimes called Cave Rock, but my copy, with the black and white cover, bears neither title - just a photo of three moustached dudes (again, three guys that could definitely pass as contemporary hipsters from Brooklyn, Berlin or Potland in 2011) and the tracks, listed with side B first. This is the most "avant" of "avant-rock"; equal parts psychedelic exploration, musique concrete, noise-thrust-fusion and horizontal soundscape. There's nary a trace of prog, though - the structures are brutal and primitive. Even the dazzling opening cut, 'Caledonia', is a mindless verse-verse-verse structure, made amazing through the parched vocals, dissonant instrumentation, and bleating bagpipes. On the flip, 'Crow of the Black Tree' manages to sound huge and complex, though it's only two acoustic guitar chords throughout. It's deceptively beautiful at the beginning, like a postcard from Andalusia dropped in a puddle; the overall feeling resembles Amon Duul 1, minus any trace of "good vibes". Pretty much every track on here is singular and brilliant, and goes in a different direction than what precded it. 'Fantasy' even sounds like the Beach Boys, only warped; 'Toth, Scribe I' is the dense murky jam that you've been waiting for and it doesn't disappoint over it's ten minutes. 'Ritual Feast of the Libido' and 'Organic Sundown' dominate side A, conjuring images of stones in coffee cans, loincloths, and shrieks. 'Genitalia' utilises some insane bird noises that are synths (I think), like the United States of America record on crack -- except crack hadn't been invented yet. Being "ahead of its time" alone is not enough to make something great, but for someone like me who weaned himself on outsider-orientated music, hearing something like this particularly revelatory.

5 September 2011

Creative Construction Company - 'Vol. II' (Muse)

This is an all-star AACM record, featuring six musical geniuses but none household names except for Braxton. I think this was recorded in 1971, though the liner notes are confusing and this release is from '76. It's the second half of a concert, the first half of which I have never heard and I believe these two records make the totality of Creative Construction Company recorded output. As you can imagine from any record that is one composition split over two sides, this is a long, freewheeling group improvisation. It's a uniquely satisfying trip, though, exploring in 35 minutes pretty much everything you'd want from an AACM record. Leroy Jenkins and Muhal Richard Abrams steal the show, if you ask me; Jenkins is always a favourite presence for me and here he flirts around with toys and harmonicas, sometimes sounding like an accordion to jab against Braxton's meanderings. Leo Smith is underrated, as is percussionist Steve McCall -- hell, all these dudes are underrated. The live recording puts a hell of an echo on the drumset - the end of side one sounds like it's recorded in a cave, and it sets a pace for the dark modal piano that opens the flip. When they get quiet, as they often do, there's a bit of AACM magic. Richard Davis gets the bow out a lot, and these are my favourite bits. One part on side two I think has Braxton on contrabassoon while Davis scrapes away. It's like a worm rolling around, stuck on a hot sidewalk after the rain; it sneaks into something furtive and suspenseful, particularly with Smith wanders in. Ornette Coleman is credited as 'Recording Supervisor', no doubt to sell some copies - I suspect he was there at the Washington Square Methodist Church, checking out the gig, and that's about his entire involvement here. This is group improvisation as it's meant to be! And also, one of those rare instances when a supergroup actually is. Seek it out.

Crass - 'Stations of the Crass' (Crass)

The second record is an album-and-a-half (three sides at 45 rpm, the last a live half-album at 33) and maybe the defining statement from this band - before they got committed to conceptualism, which is from what I remember everything that follows. (Penis Envy, Christ the Album, Yes Sir I Will ... and while conceptualism in punk is certainly welcome, sometimes you just want to hear a band doing what they do well. Of course, I am a Crass dilettant, and quite willing to admit that I don't really understand the full vision and philosophy here. I use the term philosophy without any irony, because my understanding of Crass is that they were first and foremost a way of life, and the records were an effect of this. Or were they a symptom? And what of the music anyway, which is the primary focus of Dislocated Underbite.... ? To be honest, it's something I've rarely considered before - my tendency is to read Crass as if it was a radical art collective, which it was. But they were also a band. At least here and in Feeding of the 5000, it's punk as typically manifested - fast and aggressive, surely a reflection of the frustrations and the desire to irritate and confront general society. This is 1979, when this sound carried some weight - I firmly believe that Crass's later experimentalism came from the desire to stretch out and continue their activist tendencies through music. And likewise, I see later groups such as Chumbawumba (at least their early records) to be true followers of Crasstactics (or at least moreso most other shitty crust bands I've seen in my life). The experimentalism is here though - Eve Libertine speaks out similar to the deleted 'Asylum' on the first record, but in 'DemoNcrats' the music gets quite ethereal, creating a really provocative sound piece. It's a product of its time, but it's also not. 'Walls' gets into proto-new wave territory, with it's dissection of feminine space rather brilliantly expressed. But most of Stations of the Crass is still punk fucking rock. The songs are mostly fast, but occasionally drop down a bit to breathe. One tendency that's developed since Feeding is the embracing of piercing, shredding guitar noise at times - noise annoys, as the Buzzcocks taught us, but Crass actually use it that way. The recording is better on this sophmore effort, and the bass in particular really shouts out. 'White Punks on Hope' moves along with a creepingly familiar chord progression, driven by Pete Wright's bass. There are glimpses of their contemporaries - Black Flag at times, though I dunno how much influence was there (in either direction); 'Upright Citizens' though, could be an early Mekons single. You can actually sing along at times, but not too often. The lyrics are all printed on the foldout, and holy shit are there lots of them and it's really hard to read because of the (what else?) typewriter approach. Penny Rimbaud's artwork is stunning though, and I can only imagine what a loss this would be on a CD. Reviewing Crass now is a strange one - their anarchist ideology isn't so important to me (not that I am dismissive), but their place within the whole continuum of underground music as well as art/activism is pretty much untouchable. It's kinda strange to me to think about how much of a cornerstone these images, sounds and concepts are for so many people - and how unknown and irrelevant they are for so many others.

Crass - 'The Feeding of the 5000' (Small Wonder)

"Small Wonder" was this terrible TV show that I watched when aged in the single digits, about some girl that was actually a robot but masquerading as a suburban 9-year-old. I don't know if it took its name from the record label that released this first Crass record (is this an LP or EP? I've never been sure) but this is the famous pressing where they refused to press 'Asylum', which is an explicit, transgressive spoken word piece that I know from the CD reissue. But that was so many years ago that I forgot and was like "WTF is the first two minutes of this record silent?" I gotta say that 45 rpm suits Crass well - these songs sound great. How did these crusties achieve such a good recording quality? It's on here twice, and it's the most iconic Crass song, but seriously, did punk ever achieve a better song? I came to Crass late so I don't have this deep resonance with them; their ideas were already bouncing off my jaded ears by then, so I have to just assess the MUSIC. And I think this slays. 'Do They Owe Us a Living?' is on here twice, but then again, it's Crass's most famous song and a high water mark of the whole idiom. Listening to this, I'm transported back to many punk house kitchens, where black-clad friends had lengthy discussions about quinoa, Proctor and Gamble and In/Humanity. Crass had chops, unlike many of their followers - the rock crunch is there, the anthemic nature undeniable (yet not cheesy). 'General Bacardi' fucking slays; there's a confidence that can only come from a communal dedication to a philosophy of which the band is almost a byproduct. When listening to this, I found myself thinking I ought to grab copies of the other Crass records I don't have (which is everything except this and Stations). I came to Crass late -- late enough to appreciate, for sure, but also too late to make the life-defining bond with this music that so many others have. Is it too late? I don't fucking know, but I guess we'll see.

31 August 2011

Kevin Coyne/Dagmar Krause - 'Babble' (Virgin)

I file this under C-for-Coyne because he wrote all of the songs, and Dagmar is "just" the female perspective vocally, but she sure adds a lot to this, a forgotten masterpiece in my opinion. Babble is a concept album about a relationship falling apart, set in the late 60s. The main theme is communication, but there's a lot of brutal honesty in these songs. It's not something for everyone, nor would I classify this among the greatest downer breakup albums like Mountain Goats' Sweden or Smog's Doctor Came at Dawn. Instead it's a restrained, folk-rock song cycle that tries repeatedly to find hope and strength in failure, but offers no answers. Instead of being duets, the songs are often led by one or the other, though they do come together at points. The opening two cuts are pretty incredible - the male 'Are You Deceiving Me?' and then Dagmar's 'Come Down Here'. These two songs, with lyrics that are actually pretty sparse, are drenched in fear and insecurity and explore a middle-aged emotional territory that few artists ever touch. The vocal performances are stellar, of course, and you would think these two actually had a relationship (though I doubt that). The music is generally folky-blues in that Kevin Coyne style, most rambunctious in 'Stand Up' (which is also probably the weakest, most out-of-place tune lyrically) though 'Sweetheart' could totally be an Art Bears track with it's doom organ and vocal hysterics. 'Shaking Hands with the Sun' is almost a misstep, equating the relationship with Hitler and Mussolini, but that type of extreme simile can work if one is grounded in a similar emotional quagmire. The closing lyric of "it doesn't burn" is repeated in a way that conflicts with the upbeat tune; and then 'My Minds Joined Forces' comes out of it which is the most sarcastic, almost twee mirage of the album. But I gravitate towards brutal, raw honesty which you get in 'I Really Love You' and the Kevin Ayers-like 'Sun Shines Down on Me'. 'I Confess' is the guilt song, and it has the same gentle cadence of Marjory Razor Blade's most successful strummers. This avoids becoming a musical light-opera deal by being fairly untied to the "concept album" format, and having loose, open lyrics that can resonate to anyone, outside of a narrative. The last two tracks are repetitive duets, the first "It really doesn't matter' and the "We know who we are" - both the song titles and only lyrics. It's a trance of resolution, but I can't say that the album ends hopefully; just in an air of resignation.

30 August 2011

Kevin Coyne - 'Marjory Razor Blade' (Virgin)

This is Kevin Coyne's masterpiece, and I'm lucky to have the double LP version. It's sprawling and messy, like all double albums, but compared to the spare Case History this is a rocker. Lyrically, Coyne's turning his gaze to the middle class as opposed to the deranged mental patients he chronicled before, but really, is there a difference? 'This Is Spain' in particular resonates with me because of a terrible business trip I was on once that had me stuck in Marbella, a touristy hellhole if there ever is one. I didn't think of that song then but how great it would have been to walk around listening to it on headphones. But what an awesome record this is - the blues edges are sharper, the drums give everything a pounding edge, and Coyne's distinctive voice is the powerful center (even though he's not mixed that high). The title track opens things up in a practically 'Dust Blows Forward' manner, an a-capella dirge with twisted aggro flavours. When 'Marlene' comes out of it, it's a magical explosion, and like the fellow side-A cut 'Eastbourne Ladies', Coyne really never sounds better. The album is back and forth a bit between the drum-driven electric blues and the mellow ballads, with two Carter Family tunes thrown in the mix. The 'blues' is rampant, particularly on side two. 'Cheat Me' is pure knife-edge; 'I Want My Crown' and 'Mummy' feel more like sketches than full "songs" - a place for the band to stretch out with some slide stylings and other affects. Because I tend to enjoy Coyne's acoustic side more, I find these tracks charming, and maybe Marjory Razor Blade is so perfect because the balance is just right. When there is a full band, like 'House on the Hill', it's a nice momentum-builder; this song, feeling like a holdover from Case History because of the frank way it addresses mental illness, is nonetheless one of the album's strongest. Record two begins with my all-time favourite Coyne song, 'Jackie and Edna', a song about loneliness and regret unlike anything else I've ever heard. There's some class consciousness sprinkled throughout Marjory Razor Blade but it's not overwhelming - we're not into Housemartins or Billy Bragg territory, though I suspect Coyne may have been an influence here. This was about as close to commercial success as he ever got, and while I'm not intimately familiar with his later output, the general wisdom is that he never bettered this -- who am I to argue?

Kevin Coyne - 'Case History' (Tapestry)

The first Kevin Coyne record was repressed on thick 180g vinyl with good remastering and a really thick, solid cardboard sleeve - really, this thing could stop a bullet. I always wanted to hear this as I've loved most of Marjory Razorblade, particularly the acoustic/bluesy songs, which Case History consists almost entirely of. I wasn't disappointed - this is a great, intense trip, consisting of songs Coyne wrote while working in a mental institution. He has a great British bluesman voice, a bit Donald Duckish at times, but with just the right taste of pain. Some members of Siren turn up on a few tracks, most notably the great opener 'God Bless the Bride', where the extra guitars are a lovely complement. In all honesty, almost every one of these songs is about mental dissolution and despair, usually with an intense steel strum and repetition in the right way. 'Need Somebody' tackles age and loneliness in a quite prescient way for a 28 year old, and it foreshadows Coyne's own descent into depression later in his career. I saw him play around 2002 or so with the Mountain Stage band from that radio show as his backing group, because I think his son was in it. I didn't really know any of the songs he played except for 'Having a Party' which at that moment represented the true failure of rock and roll - the side we never hear about. He died soon after, and I'll always remember this pudgy guy in sandals bleating out this forgotten rock classic to a near-empty room in a Pittsburgh industrial park. But back to the other end of his career, all full of enthusiasm and promise. Case History is pretty fucking great. 'Araby' gets wispy and rambling, just like the somber 'White Horse'. Many of these songs, from a guitar-strumming POV, are simple-minded and repeititive, even trance-like. 'My Message to the People' feels far longer than it is, as does 'Mad Boy', making side two feel claustrophobic and nightmarish - which is exactly the intent. Though there's nothing musically experimental happening, it's pretty uncompromising. At it's most loopy it starts to resemble psychedelic blues, closer to Ed Askew than Country Joe. But it's the voice and the lyrics that drive through everything, and I ought to listen to this one much more often.

Lol Coxhill - 'The Joy of Paranoia' (Ogun)

Sometimes when I am going through a mild personal freakout, either a "why the fuck do I have so many records?" moment (which I call armchair zen) or a "do i even really like music?" moment, I'll think about all the records I never listen to as a key element (but I'm never sure if it's cause or effect). So I'll have these moments where I wonder why I need to own four different LPs by Lol Coxhill when I never listen to them, etcetera etcetera. This project was embarked upon partially to conquer these freakouts, and genuinely assess all of this plastic and vinyl I drag around with me from place to place, which is not so easy to deal with when you move to a new country every 3 years. Most of the time I end up finding new pleasures here, as I think I've only come across one or two LPs so far that I don't enjoy at all anymore -- yes, I tossed that second Arti + Mestieri record already. I've loved the first 3 Coxhill records here, and had fond memories of Joy of Paranoia. This memory has been mostly upheld, though I'd probably say it's my least favourite of the four. How much you enjoy the paranoia depends on how much you like guitars; side one is an 18 minute jam with three guitarists I've never heard of, one acoustic, one electric, and one bass. Lol is on soprano throughout -- throughout the entire LP - and I think he works well with the other guys. The Spanish guitar in particular gives it a real gentle, adult-oriented-improv feel, and they spill into all margins of speed, timbre and motion over the track. Side two begins with a four-part suite with Veryan Weston on piano, which is playful; the two don't so much intertwine as provoke, and there's a wooly tone to the sax like it's been muted. Or maybe I just need a new stylus. The fourth part of this suite is called 'Prelude to paranoia' and it leads into a solo piece, the almost-title track of the album ('Joy of Paranoia Waltz'). And what a track! This is some multitracked soprano sax, ascending and descending simultaneously to create the maddening tapestry it's title suggests. Paranoia is pleasure here; it's not claustrophobic or even that demanding, but it's an intense and beautiful 2 minutes and 12 seconds - go hear it on YouTube if you don't believe me. It's a Coxhill jam for mixtapes and DJ sets, and it's exuberance is infectious. The last two tracks are longer live improvisations with a hot electric pianist, Michael Garrick. The playful attitude remains though it's most edgy than the acoustic piano tracks with Weston; they combine to make side two a symmetrical sandwich balanced around 'Joy of Paranoia Waltz', with some crowd enthusiasm and applause sprinkled in. 'Perdido' has a great piano solo that is sorta funky at times, or maybe I should say chunky; this brings out Lol's more tuneful side, which is reassuring. Trying to describe these tracks makes them sound pedestrian but they are anything but. Though this album feels a bit like a mishmash of disparate sessions, in a way all four of the records under consideration here have had that attribute. The liner notes here are even more earnest than Ear of Beholder's spoken sections ("I hope that those who accept my more extreme outpourings will find this music as interesting as I did at the time of recording") and that just adds to all the fucking charm this guy has built with me over the past four entries. Sadly, my accumulation of all things Coxhill terminates here.

28 August 2011

Coxhill/Miller Miller/Coxhill (Virgin)

Of course I (like everyone) thought this would be 'Fly Like and Eagle' Steve Miller, but sadly (or happily?) I was wrong - this Steve Miller has some connection to Hatfield and the North, I think. This record invites two titles and two entrances, eschewing the side A/side B malarkey that has plagued records for so long. I chose Miller/Coxhill first and it's a sneaky beginning - 'Chocolate Field', a somber piano piece that Lol comes in on at the end. Coxhill doesn't appear on the lengthy second track, 'One For You', but we get Phil Miller, Pip Pyle and Richard Sinclair, making this a solidly Canterbury track, as you can imagine. It sounds pretty good though - composed by Miller, it's clearly built around his piano, but with some lovely, ripping guitar notes from the other Miller. It's definitely that rolling, brainy yet easy limey prog vibe, and while a forgettable track, it sets the vibe for Coxhill's re-entry on 'Portland Bill'. Instead of a a full drum kit, this has frantic cymbal playing from Laurie Allen and Lol and Miller finally start to open up a bit, like a catamaran traveling through a cloudy tunnel. The cymbals give the piece more velocity and nervousness than I think a full drum kit could do; Lol is much more sidewinder than tunesmith here, and it serves the group dynamic very well. But then flip it over, and holy christ does it get nuts. 'Will my thirst play me tricks?/The ant about to be crushed ponders not the where withal of bootleather' is some outer limits madness, where our eponymous band leaders play 'Wurlitzer percussion', which I guess means bashing on a Wurlitzer. This sounds like nothing I've ever heard from the genre of Bumpy Rambling Bashing; it's nervous and driving, and it blends seamlessly into 'Maggots', where some 'messy phones' are played and then we finally get to 'Bath '72' which is a warm, wet solo Coxhill piece with 'children, tapes and motors' (though these elements are merely a gurgling presence in the background). This is the most adventurous side of vinyl yet from Coxhill, and there's hardly any trace of his music hall leanings -- yet it carries through the joy found on Ear of Beholder, coupled with innovative exploration. Exciting stuff, for sure. The last two tracks, 'Wimbledon Baths' and "Gog ma Gog' take things down a notch, but this somber, moody ending is kinda nice after the highs heard before. The end result of this meeting is something inconsistent, and hardly unified enough to stand as the double-titled dual-entry record it's presented as, but the gems shine bright.

Lol Coxhill - 'Toverbal Sweet' (Mushroom)

Lol tells us in the liner notes that he's not really the band leader here, and if the record had come out in Holland it would probably be Pierre Courbois or Jasper Van't Hof listed first. This trio appears on Ear of Beholder and here stretches out a bit as a reeds/piano/drum trio. Side one is broken into a bunch of shorter tracks that really flow as one live performance. Van't Hof's piano is repetetive and melodic, owing far more to Mike Ratledge's Soft Machine style than any jazz precedent. Throughout the entire album, there's a repetitive four-note theme that sets an almost rock tone; when Coxhill is soloing over it, it really feels like a jam band, but with jazz instrumentation. Despite the melodic, chordal focus, this doesn't feel "easy" or cheap; instead, it's infused with a splendid history and awareness of antecedents. This is jaunty jazz that strides with a spring step; it's miles away from Miles, and only gets into out-scrapings on the last track, 'The Un-Tempere Klavier and Heavy Friends'. This Berrocalism recalls the 'Rasa Moods' piece on Ear of Beholder, and while not quite as distant (or verbal), it has that same casual quality that emphasis performance over studio fidelity. It gets ferocious only at the very end, and they show they can hang with the big dogs. There's a few solos on side one - Courbois's drum solos are understated, even feeble, but I mean than as a compliment. The hot piano sound is really going to make or break your feelings on Toverball Sweet; I myself find it pretty "sweet" indeed, but I'm a former ivory-pounder myself. Side one's closing minute, just titled 'Toverbal', is an elegiac moment of Coxhill's magical wind, and I don't know why they didn't choose to close the whole album with it.

21 August 2011

Lol Coxhill - 'Ear of Beholder' (Dandelion/Ampex)

Ear of Beholder is one of those magical artefacts that is delightful from start to finish, though I don't make myself listen to it enough. Coxhill's a great saxophonist and his personality shines through every second of this, whether he's blowing his horn or speaking affably to the listener. Though it's only 3 of the 21 tracks on Ear of Beholder, the songs where Lol sings with David Bedford accompanying him on piano and backing vocals are stunning - their impact on the album is huge. Midway through side 1, after we've been treated to two fantastic live saxophone improvisations (all of which have a lot of great outdoors noise in the background, and 'Deviation Dance' has a great, gritty fidelity), we encounter the first of these songs. 'Two Little Pigeons' is sweet and sort of romantic, having that old-timey feel but fragmented through a London avant-garde of the late 1960's. And 'Don Alfonso' (who works at Oxo) is a bit of sillyness but it balances well and serves to break up what would otherwise be a whole side of saxophone solos. Not that I don't like the sax solos - I wouldn't own so many Lol Coxhill LPs if I didn't - but that these show a humour, versatility and eclecticism that is iconoclastic in the often po-faced UK improv scene. Coxhill's playing is deft; bluesy and swinging when it needs to be, and generally much more human than other UK musicians like Evan Parker. His mastery is felt but he's not beating you over the head with it. But that's just side 1! Side two goes for the documentary feel; 'Feedback' being a noisy dictaphone recording that is aptly namee, and then a larger band ensemble that features Mike Oldfield, though the fidelity is no better. It's got a similar feel to some of those chunky Arbete & Fritid instrumentals, though not quite as woodsy. We encounter a children's choir on 'Mango Walk', and the theme of innocent voices is returned to in side four's cover of 'I Am the Walrus' (though accompanied by Lol's flute and maraccas). Side three is a long piece, 'Rasa Moods', perhaps the most traditional "improv" here, though it also features some strange readings and has that same distant fidelity that characterises the moments with Oldfield on side two. The record's last side is like a mirror of the first one - more solo improvisations, another piano song with Bedford (the edgy 'Dat's why darkies were born' (presented in context, via spoken introduction), and a rocking jam 'The Rhytmic Hooter'. This is a monster of a debut album and it's iconoclastic, political, exploratory, diverse and accessible all at once - which is more than most artists could even dream of achieving in a long career.

Henry Cowell / Lou Harrison - split LP (CRI)

"You can't go wrong with CRI" is one of those steadfast rules of vinyl accumulation, though really, my own shelves have only a few. Both sides here are conducted by Leopold Stokowski, a "man of his time" by choice, and featuring Maro and Anahid Ajemian, two Armenian-American sisters who solo on piano and violin respectively. The Cowell composition, 'Persian Set', based on his time in Iran. It reminds me in places of the reedy mystery of the Meshes of the Afternoon soundtrack, though by the last Rondo movement, it explodes with a living, bouncy ferocity. There's some vocals during this bit which are proto-prog rock (really, they could be from the Aphrodite's Child album); the whole composition should involve a tar, a Persian guitar, but this recording uses a regular guitar. On the flip is a similarly eerie, modal work by Lou Harrison from 1951 called 'Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra'. Now, Harrison's slowly becoming one of my heroes of 20th century composition and this showcases him well, if a bit more downcast and moody than his usual ebullient work. There's a certain ebb and flow in the suites of Lou Harrison - what he does he is gets these long, slow melodies usually played by strings or flutes, with a fast, rhythmic but limited-palette instrument underneath, in a gamelan style. This one starts out with a bang but gets slow in the middle, only to slowly build back to a plateau. The second movement of this suite eeks out carefully, putting its toes in the water slowly with some exploratory fluting; the stillness is incredible. Gradually the gongs or other percussion start to appear, giving a wider horizon to the pastoral scene.

9 August 2011

Jacques Coursil Unit - 'Way Head' (BYG)

Way Ahead (as it's referred to inside, the though cover + my memory prefer this as the more 60's Way Head) is split between two of Coursil's compositions on side 1 and a lengthy Bill Dixon-penned workout on side 2. Coursil's debt to Dixon is also evident in his style, which tends to take the meandering, Gestalt approach to his instrument. 'Duke' has lots of winds and bends, a far cry from the brassy, bright abstractions that Lester Bowie was doing also in Paris at the same time. The rhythm section is the all-white duo of Beb Guerin and Claude Delcloo, and it's rounded out by the alto sax of Arthur Jones (who also plays on Archie Shepp's Yasmina, a Black Woman but is otherwise a somewhat forgotten figure). There's some great interplay between Jones' smooth tone and Guein's bowed bass, but if 'Duke' is meant to refer to Ellington I ain't hearing it. The second track, on the naming tip, is 'Fidel', and continues the left-field sidesteps. It ends with a great bumbling bass solo, sounding like a microphone being held and walking slowly away from Guerin while he thrashes and flops. On the flip is out Dixon piece, 'Paper', which is 18 minutes of gradual opening tone clouds, hesitations, and occasional bold outbursts of resonance. I like Coursil because he's really cerebral, though this is really the only thing I know of his. There's AACM influence, sure, but maybe that's just an easy insight for any record that is slow, placid and free without being rambunctious. The imagery here is far more abstracted, apart from a subtle blues feel that comes from Jones's horn. But it's BYG not by-the-books, and I like it lots.

6 August 2011

Country Joe and the Fish - 'Electric Music for the Mind and Body' (Vanguard)

The title is apt because this is pretty electrifying 60's rock - the guitars are truly racing with electricity, tinny and sharp, and honestly some of Barry Melton's noodling is exhilirating in its exploratory way. 'Death Sound Blues' takes a blues-bar pattern and amps it up with a malevolence unequaled by anything short of Neil's 'Revolution Blues'. A blues basis is throughout most of the record, and Melton takes lead vocals on 'Love', which actually injects a nice hot blast of white soul into the proceedings. It's a little pedestrian but his guitar solo has just enough creaking and clanging to carry it through. 'Happiness is a Porpoise Mouth' twists a weird singsong sex fable into a carnivalesque nightmare, with organs and buzzing, treated guitars to really make it sing. I'm generally surprised by how much bite this has; I haven't played this in well over a decade and remembered it being sorta wishy-washy. Wishy-washy it's not, but bouncy-bouncy and jingle-jangle it can be when it's not being ethereal and dark. 'Sad and Lonely Times' is such a tune, despite the lyrics. Some days I'd prefer the hazy tracks of side 2 to side 1's sharper bite, but I guess it depends on the horizon of a given day. The album's nadir ('The Masked Marauder', a bit of goofy cartoon theme music) is immediately followed by it's zenith, the closing 'Grace'. This is a wispy, wet ballad with guitars played above the headstock to create an almost musique concrete feel. Shimmering cymbals, a haunting riff, and just the right echo and resonance make this a full-on masterpiece in the truest Terrastock style.

24 June 2011

Coronarias Dans - 'Visitor' (Inner City)

The leader of Coronarias Dans is clearly Kenneth Knudsen, the keyboardist, who composed all eight of these jazzy fusion/prog jams, and dominates with his vibe-like electric piano. The liner notes tell me that this an exciting chapter in Danish music, but I'm not so sure. This has lingered in my accumlation of vinyl for so long mostly because I forgot about it; does my passion for wonky 70's Scandinavian prog have limits? Visitor really catches fire at the end of each side, when the band starts to rawk; until the we get a lot of noodling, and Peter Friis Nielsen's bass guitar continually poking it's head through the dirt, like a worm. 'Morning' is abstraction at its best, a nice dewdawn despite the aforementioned punchy bass. Some of these guys used to be in Secret Oyster, and also Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, and I guess that's what the Købehavn kids were jamming in the mid-70's when they weren't busy making those Tegn pornos. Actually my entire concept of Denmark in the 1970s comes from porn, but not actual porn as much as that Rodox magazine which I once saw a bunch of photos from, all cropped to be PG-rated, and one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I feel that same sense of toppling into a mystery here, but only if I strain. I think I grabbed this cause it was on Inner City, which did release some Art Ensemble of Chicago records around the same time, and because I was hoping for something as far-out as Flasker-Brinnet or Arbete/Fritid. Had I noticed the telltale name of Friis I woulda not mistaken this Danish band for being Swedish. This could of course benefit from being further out, though the rocking bit of 'Don't Know' does have a nice burning drone underneath, like a hurdy-gurdy thing on a guitar. On the flipside, the title track has some snappy drumming but the bassist is in total Bill Laswell mode; you wonder how these guys would sound with some Rodoxed vocalist wailing on top of everything. There's one section when the drum solos for a few measures, right before the song sputters out, and it's like a dub track because they've kicked the treble or done something weird. I dunno, but it's kinda cool in a This Heat way. 'Tied Wawes' immediately takes it down a notch; it's the sensitive ballad. (Yawn.) The compositions are actually quite open - there are times when everyone is playing well with each other around nothing at all. 'Which Witch' is the most aggressive tune of the album but it never rips free from it's shackles; it's a bit frustrating overall, Knudsen's compositional style, as it's rooted in its own navel-gazing but without really being willing to say anything. I'm being too harsh on it - the whole LP ends in a bit of Canterbury-esque chordal crashes that are kinda nice in a familiar way. I guess I'm just tough on the Nordics.

22 June 2011

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - 'Armed Forces' (Columbia)

This time the Attractions get billed, showing a move away from the cult of personality created by My Aim is True. Maybe this is why I hear this as a more cohesive band record, in everything from the keyboard arrangements of 'Senior Service', the group playfulness of 'Big Boys', or the backing vocals throughout the LP. We are a tad closer to new wave but also with a musical sophistication not heard on This Year's Model. And lyrically, Costello is taking a step to more global themes with 'Oliver's Army', the memorable hit from this record, along with '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding', which appears on this US pressing. 'Peace, Love and Understanding' is a great ending to the record, though to be honest, it doesn't fit; Elvis' snarled, bold vocalising is out of place with the rest of the LP, and it feels a bit tacked-on, despite being an iconic tune. There's quite a few great songs, because this was really the peak of his songwriting prowess, still poised on that balancing beam of relevancy. 'Army' is a somewhat complex one, dealing with Northern Irish political conflict but through the disguised format of the upbeat pop song. It pisses all over U2, but that's not tough is it? But despite this new theme, Armed Forces has plenty of classic Elvis Costello bile. 'Green Shirt' retains that jilted bitterness that made the first two records so great, even if the arrangement is more 80's radio friendly and the production infuses the song with a confidence almost disregarding it's lyrical angle. This confidence is heard in a strong drum sound (check out 'Chemistry Class' which has none of the ragged edge of a tune like 'Lipstick Vogue' or 'Miracle Man') and lots of keyboards - piano, and synth assonance between the gaps. The original title of the album, still printed in the liner notes, was 'Emotional Fascism' and that's a wonderful gem to chew on.

18 June 2011

Elvis Costello - 'This Year's Superstar' (bootleg)

When I pulled this out I thought "Whoa, I still have this." I couldn't remember too much to recommend about this Elvis Costello bootleg unless you're a total nut for the guy. I found this cheap, years ago, and enjoyed it enough when I last listened to it over a decade ago ... but now I was wondering why I keep dragging it around with me. Of course, like many times in Dislocated Underbite Spinal Alphabetical Encourager Templates, the re-listen brings out some rewarding elements and I find a new faith in a record. These recordings seem to come from a radio-recorded concert, situated chronologically I think between This Year's Model and Armed Forces, with decent-enough (for a bootleg) sound quality -- there's crowd noise, but the vocals are mixed high, with the crashing hiss of the cymbals being the biggest key to the illegitimacy of this all. The two sides are suggested by the back cover to start with 'Walk & Don't Look Back', a Temptations cover, but I think the second side is actually the beginning of the concert, as indicated by the fleeting bits of radio announcer voice. 'You Belong to Me' is certainly the set-closer, and then 'Oliver's Army' and a rather aggro 'Pump it Up' serve as encores. There's a shit-ton of vocal effects on 'Watching the Detectives', suggesting that they were really trying to play up the dub/reggae thing. Said reggae influence is evident on 'I Stand Accused', except cut with some slicing Steve Nieve guitar solos. It's sloppy, or just sounds this way because of the recording, and there's a lively energy that makes this a nice alternative to the studio albums. The Attractions (not yet called that, of course) are as furious as I've ever heard them, and I suppose this is a great live document of a time when Elvis Costello carried a vitality he's definitely lost in the intervening years.

Elvis Costello - 'This Year's Model' (Radar)

I always thought that my copy of this was rare, because the cover was misprinted, wrapping the spine around to the back, cropping the title to His Year's Model and leaving ugly printing registration marks on the right. But when I googled for an image to put here, I found a few versions of this look, suggesting this edition, if not intentional, was at least pretty common. At my peak of enjoying Elvis Costello records (approximately 12 years ago), I was happy to find this UK issue because it contained '(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea' instead of 'Radio Radio' and the former is a far better tune. Yeah, this is the best of the first three Elvis Costello records, of course containing the most hits and far better production and confidence than My Aim Is True. Here, as throughout these pages, I'm gonna express the same awkward uncomfortable approach towards writing about such "classic" records. I don't have a lot to say specifically about these songs - yes, 'Little Triggers' is a great and surprisingly nuanced look at dating, 'No Action' is a stomping side-1-track-1, and 'Chelsea''s guitar lick is like a biting razor. But I don't want to go into a deep analysis of late 70's British masculinity, cultural tropes, or any of the other things that could probably be written about here. I'm sure someone's done a PhD on Elvis Costello already, anyway. What does strike me on this revisit is how rooted in 50's and 60's rock and roll these songs are - 'You Belong to Me' could be Cliff Richard, and some of the keyboard riffs seem so obvious, but maybe that's cause I've heard these songs a million times. 'Living in Paradise' and 'Lip Service' are really great songs too. 'Lipstick Vogue' is a good fast stomper. I don't know what else to say; just enjoy this!

Elvis Costello - 'My Aim is True' (Columbia)

The black and white pattern on the front cover of My Aim is True makes a moire pattern that is somewhat dizzying, and also suggests some two-tone ska bullshit, which Elvis Costello most definitely is not. (Although 'Watching the Detectives' gets close with its reggae groove). Things aren't so black and white for young Declan McManus, but given the decades-long career that would follow from this, he's remarkable confident in his songwriting in our earliest recorded output. Some would even say his aim was true. This is a record that launched a million imitators, while itself being a perfect pastiche of British pub-rock, punk attitude, and 60's hooks. I have always liked these early Elvis Costello records a lot despite how often I've had to hear them; the songs are simple, short, and there's a lot of them -- a few too many, maybe, as I could live without 'Sneaky Feelings' or 'Pay It Back'. All great bitter rock songs are made greater when that bitterness is so obviously motivated out of fear. They become infinitely adaptable; when you're young, you can rage along with it all and when you're older you can infuse the tunes with your own experiences. The sentiments on My Aim is True are not exactly teenage, but definitely laced with more fire than resignation. I actually really like the punchiness of the backing band, Clover - there's a rough edge that fits perfectly with the Stiff records sound that I didn't appreciate either when I was back in college. 'Miracle Man' is absolutely rifftastic; even the hit ballad 'Allison' has some lovely guitar intertwining in the intro passage. Nowadays I don't listen to these records much, but they're nice to have around when I'm in the mood. I usually overlook this and Armed Forces in favour of This Year's Model, but there's a reason this has so much fame and notoriety.

17 June 2011

Galactic Supermarket (Kozmiche Musik)

Strictly speaking, this isn't credited to the Cosmic Jokers but I file it as the second of their "albums", though (as we have already discussed) these are just recordings released by an evil svengali trying to make a buck off the name of Ash Ra Tempel, etc. Galactic Supermarket is a somewhat more eclectic and interesting record that Cosmic Jokers. 'Kinder des Alls' is less horizontal than anything on the first album, bringing in some delay-affected small sounds - it's more like a collage of quieter subjams where maybe not all of the members are playing at once. Guitars are less dominant; I hear some ivories being twinkled and far more effects and processing than the first album. Someone's girlfriend sings a little bit again, her voice manipulated in a Brainticket-like manner. It's definitely more NWW-list style psychedelia than before, though things still coalesce into group crescendos. I have a vague suspicion that some post-party overdubbing may be at play. The liner notes indicate (in English, strangely) that this is a quadrophonic recording and I can only imagine how great it would sound were I in a similar state of mind and placed equidistant between a quartet of speakers. The title track, on side two, is also erratic in structure but also lurches into loud jammy freakouts more. There's a really strong sense of improvisation on the quieter bits, and all of these musicians know how to let each other breathe. Occasionally there are rock guitar riffs but they never dominate, usually melting into a noisy sound ball. The synths are full-on too, sounding like various teleportation chambers bringing musicians in and out of the party. I don't know if these jams were from the same session that produced the first album, but they certainly are a 'development'. The cover artwork is like a technicolour version of the early Blue Oyster Cult album covers, and the pseudo-Timothy Leary associations are appropriate. This, really, is the winner of the two and I've always avoided the later releases which I've been told are barrel-bottom-scraping.

16 June 2011

The Cosmic Jokers (Kozmiche Musik)

Focused, no; nor are they even a real band! Actually this was a manipulating ploy by a producer to get a bunch of famous Kraut dudes super high and make 'em jam - and then release it as a "super group" and laugh all the way to the bank. What came out was majestic - two side-long jams, of plodding, slowly building guitar epics, washes of synth, occasional vocals, and the haziest atmosphere you could imagine. It's accidentally a true classic, and I think the musicians ended up suing the shit out of this guy, as they should have, but without really failing to thwart the endless stream of reissues. 'Galactic Joke' is the first one, and it's mostly instrumental apart from some muttering at the end. The pitter-patter of the drums sound pretty solid, and on this these Ash Ra members eek out their epic construction. Focused, no, but there's some higher power that prevents more discordant urges from taking over. On the flipside, 'Cosmic Joy' begins on a Popul Vuh vibe, but then clouds approach quickly. Over twenty minutes, the Jokers sketch out another slow, unfolding exploration of murky sonic space, this one less rhythmic and more textural. It climaxes into a tribal fury for brief moments, then pulls back and allows dissonant guitars to come in. The presence and fidelity is distant, obscure; when piercing guitar notes flicker around the edges, it's never close enough to touch. Of course we now know they were just some super high dudes in a (presumably very smoky) room dicking around, but dicking about with their brainwaves locked together due to the shared experience of whatever they ingested. I feel sluggish, yet opened to something, just by listening to it. These are jokers more in a Hagbard Celine way than Monty Python, if you know what I mean; but as the group Krautjams go, this is definitive and masterful, maybe even too much so (for while I do enjoy this, I'll take the weirder and fruitier songforms over the space jams 7 times out of 10).

Larry Coryell - 'Barefoot Boy' (Flying Dutchman)

I first heard of Coryell because he plays guitar on some late, late Mingus records. Jazz guitar is always a weird one for me; I'm never sure how to put that instrument into a jazz context. Barefoot Boy puts Coryell in a group with Steve Marcus on sax and some more fusion-oriented rhythmic players. It opened with the Gabor Szabo/Santana tune 'Gypsy Queen', which sets a pace the rest of the record never catchs up to. Coryell starts the song with a rapid, muted repetitious figure and lets Marcus blast away on tenor; it's a crazy tone, and the drummer (Roy Haynes) propels things along with a light touch as well. It's really just an intro to the guitar lead, which finally comes in after a few minutes and starts screaming like the severed head of a banshee, occasionally flirting with muddy textures and flange/phase stuff. The liner notes compare him to Hendrix and I guess that's apt, though I hear Sharrock in there. The photos really make Coryell look like a nerd, like someone who shoulda been programming a VAX computer in 1971 instead of busting out ripping, swampy axe licks. I like this record a lot though, even though it mellows a bit. 'The Great Escape' finishes the first side and it's a bit more open and loose as the title might suggest. There's more breathing and still some stunning runs, but it takes on a more romantic tinge at points. Side two is one lengthy 20 minute jam called 'Call to the Higher Consciousness', which despite its name is not a long drone meditation. It's really two parts, separated by a slow, peripatetic Roy Haynes drum solo, with some straight-up rock pyrotechnics at points and the addition of Michael Mandel on piano. At times it feels like the drums and piano are in one calm mentality while Coryell and Marcus are blasting away with speedy, screeching licks. Because they have the same harmonic centre, it works well and starts to actually take on a minimalist monotony after about 15 minutes. It's too all-over-the-place to be the psychedelic call to higher consciousness I'd like, but it's good anyway.

7 June 2011

Chris Corsano - 'Another Dull Dawn' (Ultra Eczema)

Coincidence and circumstances places two Ultra Eczema LPs back-to-back here, this one being #71 in the label's run and showcasing Chris Corsano's personal, idiosyncratic brand of percussive noisemaking. These were recorded in Edinburgh when Chris was living there and seem to reflect the manic-depressive nature of Scottish temprement while reflecting the uniquely bleak weather of the region. For someone as powerful at pounding things, there's an equal amount of scraping and breath here. The 15 short pieces, all recorded in a wooly, murky manner, run the gamut from drumset freakout to toy gamelan (the beautiful 'Kittenish Gnawing pt 2' is a particularly highlight), with a lot of wind instrument mouthpieces, often modified with plastic pipes. There's a primitive, guttural feel t stuff like 'The Misread Altimeter', which is a searing, sharp wave of human breath often redlining into gutbucket territory, only with a skiffle-band aesthetic. The pieces flow; it's a really coherent statement of one man's energy, simultaneously referencing all the solo free drum classics by Milton Graves and Andrew Cyrille while also trying to stake out something new. The speedy drumset work is certainly remarkable - 'The Wreck' is a total explosion, and the full kit parts of the closing track ('The Chair Dustless in the Tiled Room') are practically blast beats. Said closing track swings between these energetic bursts and pot lid/gong melodies, which unfold into a really loose expression of rhythm. Eclectic, yes - expressive, even more so. This style of solo Corsano - also exhibited in his Cricketer album - seems to perfectly bridge the gap between the noise underground's focus on dense, textural material and his own passion for free jazz/improv. What's remarkable is how natural it feels, and how flowing and introspective it manages to be despite carving out an original, singular language. Though I think this maybe flew under the radar a bit (due to the limited nature of the pressing) this might be a high water mark for the genre, if the genre could be defined.

Cassis Cornuta - '25 jaar de gebraden zwaan zingt' (Ultra Eczema)

The low countries are full of weird obscure electronic musicians whose early experiments have been seeing the light of day in recent times - for more, see the Edmund de Deyster record, when we get there, also on Ultra Eczema. Cassis Cornuta is a synth/electronics goofball who is still active in the Antwerp underground, though these recordings were made in 1985 for a radio show which is still running. Cornuta, whose real name is Daniel de Wereldvermaarde, mines some Anton Bruhin territory though with a significantly less refined approach. There's rhythms made from the difference between turntable needle and dictaphone static, with bursts of space between them to provide a curious momentum. The tracks are all untitled and flow together well - the middle of side one is probably the most feisty bit, where there's various objects bashing together to be heard, and they all are given their own voice. It's a no-style style, a celebration of cheap mass-produced consumer electronics and the pure, childlike experimental approach of shoving fingers and toys between the gears. There's nothing digital about this type of electronic music - it's a pure product of the early 80s, the Pride of the 80s Radio Hut magic. Some of the murky bumps on side two start to resemble a steel drum, though the resemblance to anything human is superficial. It's a good listen - difficult and harsh but not annoyingly so, and Cornuta resists the temptation to mix everything into a thick soup. If anything, this music is very democratising, in that it welcomes the listener to experiment, maybe even generating sounds from the very equipment on which the record is being listened to. This isn't to say Cornuta is an idiot savant or naive; there's a real beauty in what's here - a strong sense of curation, of not just selecting sounds but expressing himself through the tension. I've seen Cornuta live and he was more invested in analogue synths and complicated electronics, but this pause-button madness is much more charming of a clamor.