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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.