HEY! Get updates to this and the CD and 7" blogs via Twitter: @VinylUnderbite

24 September 2012

Double Leopards - 'A Pebble in Thousands of Unmapped Revolutions' (Eclipse)

When I ordered this I only knew that it was a new band from a former member of Un, a semi-forgotten Siltbreeze band from the 90s built around chaos and beauty dissolving into each other. Double Leopards of course became one of the flagship artists of the 2000s, and this, their second album, was a major starting point for what unfolded. With drones built from vocals and other unidentified sources, Double Leopards are masterful in generating long, horizontal soundscapes. The first side is made up of delicate rumblings, deep echoing drones, and smaller detailed accents. The source material is undeniably organic, and it's bathed in a warm bliss. It moves quickly despite being so minimal, and this makes side two's opener, 'Garments In The Midst Of My Vestures', almost jarring. This track is heavily effected with phasers, flangers, and/or ring modulation, and the overt space-case approach puts this into a more complex acoustic realm. It stays within a strict dynamic range though - a product of the home recording, I'd guess - and while it likes to roar, it never violates its boundaries. The final cut returns to the organic warmth of the first side but from a much more yearning, crying voice. And while human voices are probably a major part of the source material, it sounds magically human yet inhuman yet probably human, a double inversion for these double leopards.

Dodos - 'Visiter' (Wichita)

Dodos are from San Francisco I think and still at it; this is their second release, from 2007, and the only one I'm really familiar with. How that happened was somehow by accident - I overheard it at a bar or club and took a shine to one of the bouncier tunes, maybe 'Red and Purple' or 'Fools'. Not that I need to defend enjoying some indie-pop, but you have have me will notice my golden era was about ten years prior to this, so I'm just explaining how one artist broke through the glut of the Internet era to reach these ears. Visiter is a double LP collection that, on a fresh listen, holds up really well. This duo has a simple setup - acoustic guitar and drums - but builds strikingly complex songs with a huge amount of momentum, cause, let's face it, the drummer is shit-hot. He keeps a syncopated thing going throughout most of the toe-tappers. It's a lot of rimwork, and not much low-end, which speaks to these white ears. But the melodies are somehow clean and catchy, shining over the frantic guitar-strum and staccato beats. At two LP's, Visiter could almost wear out its welcome, but it never does, balancing the slower ballads amongst the energy ('Ashley' is quite moving, haunting really). There's not much beyond guitars and drums but the occasional intrusion of a xylophone or horn or even electric guitar adds a nice spice to the proceedings - on 'Winter', the horns really boost the nostalgic vibe. That thing about indie-pop that tends to annoy me - the overly cute, bland vocals - is only slightly slightly present, but it's saved by the music having some real energy and bite. Who would have ever thought indie pop would benefit from rhythm, rhythm, rhythm? Actually, it seems obvious in retrospect. Accessible and lively, 'Paint That Rust' even has a slight Hasil Adkins vibe to it. 

11 July 2012

Tod Dockstader - 'Quatermass' (Owl)

Here's a classic of musique concrete where it's wonderful to have the original LP - not just for it's aesthetic value as B&W creepy otherworldly sound artefact, but for the liner notes. Sure, you can probably find them online, but it's wonderful to read them while hearing the nearly 50 year old drones and tones float off the surface of the platter. This is one to listen to with turntable dustcover UP! Quatermass sounds a lot like the other pieces of its time - the San Francisco tape music experiments of Ramon Sender, Pauline Oliveros, etc; the 50s work of Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luenig; and all the other stuff compiled on that Ohm box set from awhile back. It sounds a lot like them in that it's recorded to showcase the new possibilities of oscillators, close-mic'ing everyday objects (Tod says in the liner notes that some of the sounds are just balloons and adhesive tape!) and tape loops. But every one of these artists has their own distinct personality, which is why this is music and not just a technical experiment. Quatermass is a 5-part movement and it begins and ends with 'songs', the term used fairly loosely though there is a harmonic and melodic structure evident. Warbles, wiggles and burps underlie the soaring high-pitched assonance, and it establishes a mood, wrought with drama and lurching. Sometimes it sounds like a gong or some other acoustic percussion is used, often to quickly change the feel of a sequence - there's silence and then space, and the reverberation can take its course before the next sound comes in. When it gets thick, it's never too much - the dense slabs of sound have their place and the more active busy parts all have such clear purpose that it's not a noisy freakout. I love the motion here, particularly in 'Tango', when there's a dizzying array of back and forth. This is a stereo LP, recorded in 1966 though the original tapes were from '64, and I wonder how much variation we get. 'Parade' closes out side 1 with some of the harshest bits, a true cataclysm of darkness, though Dockstader's sci-fi tendencies are quite enjoyable, never as apocalyptic as they could be.

Dirty Projectors - 'Bitte Orca' (Domino)

How timely to alphabetically stumble across this, just as their latest release, Swing Lo, Magellan is hitting the street and likewise the critical sphere. I'm unabashedly in love with Bitte Orca, which stroked the perfect apex between brainy broken pomo constructions and sweet folk-pop songs. The earlier releases I heard, Gettysburg Address and Rise Above I found to be curious experiments but lacking something to sink my teeth into; my jury is still out on Swing Lo, Magellan though there's a few gems for sure. But this one, wow! Somehow it all adds up, though my highlights are the ones where something tangible emerges - some fragments of feeling, or just a few tears. 'Two Doves' is my absolute favourite, a song that pulls real pain out of it's string arrangements and fragile construction. Much can be made of Dave Longstreth and his deconstruction techniques, but a line like 'But our bed is like a failure' transcends everything, It's probably the most conventional cut on here, but that's not to say I don't like the unraveling guitar licks; 'Remade Horizon' and 'Temecula Sunrise' are axe-shredders that do something amazing I've never quite figured out. The female vocalists go a long way to making this a record I enjoy so much, though the single 'Stillness Is the Move' never did anything for me. I don't mind it's influence of top-40 pop - why is that such a bad thing for so-called art rock to embrace? -- but the tune feels too detached from the organic core of Bitte Orca. 'Flourescent Half Dome', the album closer, took me a long time to warm up to, but when I finally did I found an insecurity in the open, loose steps that truly appealed to me. I suspect I might grow to love Swing Lo, Magellan equally or greater than this with time, so expect to see it in Dislocated Underbite iteration #2, coming (at this rate) in 2023 or so.

10 July 2012

Michel Dintrich / Philippe Drogoz ‎– 'La Guitare Au-Delà...' (Classic)

The acoustic guitar is hereby reinvented; played in totality, an osteopathic approach to a sound instrument. Side A finds Dintrich tapping, wobbling, and breathing through his guitar. The strings are an essential component of a guitar, sure, but here they are not the only one. I'm reminded of Tetuzi Akiyama, who shares a similar sparse, minimal approach, but Dintrich is more woody, earthy; with deep reverb and bending harmonics, he stakes out a language of his own. On the flip is a collaboration, I think - it appears to be Dintrich on a 10-string guitar, performing a composition by Philippe Drogoz, though Drogoz is not credited on the front of the record and the whole thing confuses me. Here is some true dark yoga; Drogoz's tape work is sometimes screeching, sometimes plotting, and always a thick counter to Dintrich. In the middle of it all, things decelerate to nothing and then slowly build up again, based around an ever-so-creeping Drogoz drone. Dintrich here is going mad - thrusting backhands against the stringboard, scraping, bending, plucking errant notes out of the air and then receding back to nothing. It's a duo interplay unlike any other, a battle royale, but Drogoz's whirring wins out. Or does it? This was recorded in 1970 which is freaking amazing to think about, as it's so contemporary (or maybe contemporary is just so retro). An eBay search turns up some other work that seems to be straight classical guitar pieces, which I'd love to hear after this gem.

9 July 2012

Dif Juz - 'Extractions' (4AD)

This was it, really - the only proper Dif Juz record -- but a confident step forward it is, especially when compared to the EPs, which are more like sketches. The opening cut, 'Crosswinds', is built from saxophone drenched in wet reverb. It looks towards New Age music as well, but also is an early beacon towards the pop side of British electroacoustic music from later in the decade (I'm thinking O.Rang for example). 'Crosswinds' is lovely - the timbre of the saxes makes waves, a beautiful blanket of wet ear candy. This atmosphere is but a tease - the rest of Extractions is significantly more upbeat, driven by live drumming which is mostly free from the studio effects and processing which seem to affect every instrument. Yet Extractions is not an artificial chunk of computer love - it's welcoming and tries out musical ideas within the framework of this genre. 'A Starting Point' has quick-moving counterpoint; 'Silver Passage' is a quest.'Echo Wreck' feels like the major statement, with it's quick tapping drumming, soaring keyboards, and crafty melodic structure. The Cocteau Twins' vocalist makes an appearance on 'Love Insane', and her voice is a beauty; the vocal treatment sits much better with Dif Juz's music than the vocals on Vibrating Air, but it's good that most of the record stays instrumental. The tempo is somewhat uniform, and the sound is a pretty major step away from not just punk but from new wave at all. But while a lot of music like this - which later gets labeled as post-rock - becomes a bit too mellow, Dif Juz somehow stay energetic throughout. A whole lot of what I think of as the '4AD Sound' comes from music like this - this strain of (mostly British) 1980s musicians looking at texture, tension, ad soundscape instead of vitriol. The path leads though the Durutti Column and all the way to Talk Talk before the Americans started paying attention.

8 July 2012

Dif Juz - 'Out Of The Trees' (4AD)

Dif Juz is a tough one to place - hard to say as well, but I've always pronounced it like 'diffuse'. This is their last release but chronologically drawn from their first, so I place it here. Out of the Trees takes their two 1981 12" singles and combines them into an LP, with some parts of the Vibrating Air 12" re-recorded in 1986. That material is the A-side, even though the Huremics 12" predates it, so the whole chronology is a bit messy. But that's ok, because this is music that's easy to slip away from consciousness. I don't want to call Dif Juz "slight" but that comes to mind - it's undeniably pleasant, even when vocals creep in (as on 'Heset') and create an odd, atmospheric post-dub 4AD soup. The bass is prodding, there's ripping rack effect textures on the guitars, and errant keyboard notes paint a perfect backdrop to the somewhat forgettable lyrics, which mention the title conceit of 'vibrating air' (isn't that what all sound is?). I really like Dif Juz though - they are a missing link between post-punk experiments such as Rip Rig and Panic and the second Slits album, and What We Talk About When We Talk About 4AD in the  1980s. The dub saturates the Vibrating Air tracks, but the flipside, Huremics, has a more driving feel, like Savage Republic gone surfing in Manchester clubs at the time. It's a bit simpler - 'Re' has triumphant guitar arcs over a solid bass foundation, and 'Mi' is populated with little guitar sounds, dancing in and out of the niches made by rhythm. 'Cs' is a great closer for the record, with psychedelic (almost sci-fi shimmer), bright sky dance beats, and a positive outlook - so maybe that's why it was sequenced here.

4 July 2012

Don Dietrich/Ben Hall - 'Spitfire' (What The--?)

Three blistering tracks of free-skronk fury, allowing Dietrich to rip it up without the Borbetosoup around him (I've seen it live but think this is the only recording I've grokked). Ben Hall plays the drums real well, on the first track actually propelling things melodically and on the flipside being an absolute fury of the racktoms. It's a plundering of Sunny Murray's legacy, but I mean that in a good way - the beat is always falling through the centre, like a cylinder spinning so fast you don't know the bottom drops out (remember that amusement park ride?). Dietrich's tone is absolutely sick; on the second track it starts to mellow slightly, but the side-long second half of Spitfire is firmly in the upper scratch channels. Ayler's the obvious comparison because of the tone and construction, though this surprises me a bit - Dietrich always struck me as one step further away from the jazz tradition, though maybe this is Hall's influence. The tempo never drops, not even for a second, and while I often would cite that as a criticism, in this case I'm quite satisfied with the fury. The recording is just the perfect level of fidelity and I like to think of the three planes on the cover as representing three tracks.

3 July 2012

The Dictators - 'Go Girl Crazy!' (Epic)

"Smart" stupid music is genius, and this might be where it really started. Though I guess the Stooges could be argued for, yet they are more avant-garde leaning than most give 'em credit for - the Dictators can speak to the common man and celebrate rock music's pyrotechnics as much as they mock them. Go Girl Crazy was a record I wanted to hear for years, because when I was about 11 I bought Chuck Eddy's genius book Stairway to Hell, a chronicle of the best "heavy metal" records of all time. Much has been made of Eddy's idiosyncrasies, such as putting two Kix albums and Teena Marie in the top 11 - but this book stayed with me for years, and I'm still uncovering gems that I first read about in the early 90s. #18 was this album, which boasted a picture of this brilliant cover and looked sorta like a joke but possibly one that I wanted to get in on. I used to think of this as pre-punk, something bridging the Velvets and the Ramones maybe, but there's more fun involved than either would have. Melodies and harmonies and the tinge of romanticism are all OK because this is music from the suburbs of America, for sure - it's descended more from Bruce Springsteen, whose Born To Run I guess came out this same year (1975). 'Back to Africa' and 'Master Race Rock' are back-to-back cuts that toy with political incorrectness, but I don't know that the master race has anything to do with skin colour. The liner notes boast that the lyrics may prove hazardous to your health, but they have some great guitar solos so who cares? The Dictators could sure play, but they're not overly musical; they're funny but not overtly ha-ha - and there's an energetic spirit that's certainly not for everyone but I like it lots. '(I Live For) Cars and Girls' sums up the ethos about as perfectly as possible, but 'Teengenerate' is the real winner; it's a bit Sparks, a bit 90s pop-punk, and a lot of that recent revival of bands like Nobunny. 'California Sun' really opens up this pipeline, and Handsome Dick Manitoba's spoken monologue at the beginning of 'Two Tub Man' I think namedrops E. Bloom from Blue Öyster Cult, who was also produced by Sandy Pearlman. Maybe this should be a litmus test, a record to play for anyone if one wants to determine if they like rock music or not. Cause it's smart to be dumb, and it can be dumb to be smart (though I love my Eno records even more than this). I used to think I had to choose one of these camps but now I try to lumber between both. That's another reason I like music so much - there's a zillion personalities for us to choose from.

2 July 2012

Devo - 'Duty Now For the Future' (Warner Bros.)

The inexorable progress towards new wave! Devo's second album is pretty hot but it's definitely a change in sound. The really brutal, primitive broken stuff is less prevalent - no 'Too Much Paranoias' here -- and the keyboards are more prominent. Devo seems to have taken on their sci-fi influence more overtly, as these songs suggest robots and space travel more than they seem to be about Devolution. Exceptions, of course - opening cut 'Clockout' and 'Smart Patrol' have that sense of regression, but otherwise this is a 'Wiggly World', with faster and sharper guitar turns, thick digital keyboard assonance and a significantly more intelligent vibe. Don't worry, though - 'The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize' is about V.D. (I think) and 'Pink Pussycat' has the high-school sex-starved nerd imagery that began on the Hardcore-era cuts. 'Day My Baby' contains a 60s (or maybe 50s)-influenced chorus that shows Devo are capable of utter pop brilliance if they want. The opening "Devo Corporate Anthem' (surely performed at the beginning of every Devo cover band concert, or at least the two that I've played in and/or attended) sets the tone - Devo really are a corporation, active to this day in jingle-writing and other such work, and this philosophy seems to merge well with the misanthropic art-fuck of their origins. 'Mr. DNA' has a punk edge, and also contains the beautiful lyric 'He's an altruistic pervert', which is the best kind, right? Every song on here is a winner, pretty much, except for the cover of 'Secret Agent Man', which lacks the irony of 'Satisfaction' - though its still competent enough, I suppose. At the same time, this feels like the beginning of the end - I've never hung around for the 'Girl U Want'/'Whip It' era, though it's still wonderful and amazing that they found chart success. If I were a Devo conspiracy theorist, maybe I would point to this as being the point in which Mark Mothersbaugh asserts himself as proper 'leader' of the band, having swung away from Jerry Casale (where the balance was probably felt perfectly on the first album) - but that's not to say I don't like Mothersbaugh as a musician, artist, and overall renaissance man.

26 June 2012

Devo - 'Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!' (Warner Bros)

A great detail of the creepy cover art is that the hat of this über-man says "ACTUAL SIZE" on it. I love early Devo. What a brilliant, incredible fucking band, and what makes it even greater is that they're still at it, and have lived their concept to fruition. Ryko put out some CDs called Hardcore Devo back in the 90s, which were culled from sessions and demos recorded before this album - it's some of their most brilliant and fractured music, and I wish a vinyl version existed (update: the first volume came out as a French fanclub release!). Devo is a wolf in sheep's clothing; though they are remembered for their pop success and the quirk/novelty factor, they're truly one a dedicated and furious group of art radicals. The Hardcore stuff really makes that clear as much of it seems sexist and stupid but is really just truly misanthropic. Elements of that certainly remained by the time they made it to the major label here ('Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')' being one such track, and of course 'Uncontrollable Urge') but there's an undeniable pop fury which strangely presaged edgy new wave music while not having anything to do with that stuff. The discordant basslines and meandering guitar licks are not a million miles away from what Talking Heads were doing at the time, though it's more fragmented; but I think Mothersbaugh's distinctive yelp, surely the most identifiable feature of Devo, is also remniscent of Byrne's. I like Talking Heads but it's silly to compare them, and they don't hold a candle to Devo. This is a work of utter genius, a truly subversive pop record that after 30+ years is still a pretty distinctive vision. Side two opens up with two of Devo's greatest numbers, also showing both of their sides. 'Too Much Paranoias' is a bit of No Wave insanity and then 'Gut Feeling' is a triumphant and powerful ascent through the gates of heavenly melody. Most of the Devo classics are found on this album or the next, save 'Whip It' -- 'Mongoloid', 'Jocko Homo', and 'Come Back Jonee' for example are found here. The cover of 'Satisfaction' is far more than novelty - it follows from the masturbation epic 'Uncontrollable Urge' and reduced the pyrotechnics of rock to latent, broken bursts. Eno produced this record, and it's surprisingly 'rock' - Eno was clearly smart enough to emphasise Devo's best asset, which was their prowess as a musical unit. This actually could sound far more futuristic, but Devo were anything but futurists - it's really about the earth starting to corkscrew backwards, fueled by hatred of man's civilisation.

24 June 2012

Destroyer - 'This Night' (Scratch)

Once again, a great Destroyer album has somewhat forgettable artwork, and lists the track titles right on the front cover. But this is a step forward for sure - a leap to a major indie label (and his home ever since, on Merge, though this LP is actually on Canadian label Scratch) and a leap towards larger production and more expansive songwriting. At two LPs, This Night is just a slight bit too long, but contains some of Dan Bejar's most magnificent performances. One way to read This Night is that Bejar feared this would be his only chance so he tried to make a statement - a great, sprawling double-LP masterpiece-of-intention. Right from the beginning we can hear it - the long, spacious title track seems to pull back the neurotic intensity heard on the last few records in favour of just letting it breathe, man. The production has tons of echo, reverb around his voice, and the dry, scratchy tinniness is nowhere to be found. The electric guitars rage, the keyboards are more atmospheric than lead-based, and Bejar sounds confident throughout. I believe 'Crystal Country' is made great by it's sinewy guitar licks, taking it in a surprising Crazy Horse direction while still giving space to his familiar cadences. 'The Chosen Few' is a frantic, Spanish-influenced acoustic number that's in my Destroyer top 5 -- in fact, I remember when I got my current speakers, I guess 10 years ago, this was on the turntable and 'The Chosen Few' was the first track I listened to through them.  The lyric associations are less rooted in indie culture as on Streethawk, though 'Trembling Peacock' is as autobiographical as we'll ever get from Bejar (more-so than 'Self Portrait with Thing'), and it's touching (and with the same dramatic rushes found on Thief). Everything feels much more sketch-like than we've heard before; the songs have a lazy swing sometimes, and the lyrics feel almost improvised. 'Hey, Snow White' is barely a song compared to the precision shown before, and I find that to be the best and worst thing about This Night. It's great that this record stands out against his others, and I've always liked to view albums as total concepts, moods to stand alone. I don't find myself pulling it out very often, but then again, it's a somewhat demanding listen; the songs are all long and seem to never quite know when to finish. The biggest exception is the closing cut, 'The Night Moves', which feels like a holdover from the Streethawk era with it's direct 4/4 rhythm and wordless chorus, a throwback to the 'You've got the spirit' code of 'The Bad Arts'. Elsewhere, there's goodness everywhere. 'Here Comes the Night' feels written to be a hit, and it's catchy, though never one of the great Destroyer songs for me. Despite the dark artwork and nocturnal lyrics throughout (three songs with 'night' in the title, versis one with 'white' and one with 'light'), I associate this album more with warm summer days, maybe due to the tube-based warmth of the production. After this, Bejar starts to really experiment - Your Blues and Kaputt are total departures, and Trouble in Dreams and overly wordy mess; only Rubies from the later record has the same magic as this one, a 'return to form' for sure, though that's not to say I don't love parts of all of 'em.

21 May 2012

Destroyer - 'City of Daughters' (Tinker/Cave Canem)

I don't have the privilege of seeing the Soundscan figures, but I'd guess that latest Destroyer album at the time of this writing, Kaputt, had to be his biggest selling. Maybe I should actually say biggest 'hit' because popularity probably has little connection these days to actually 'moving units' or whatever they used to say. I feel like everywhere I go nowadays, I encounter some kid playing it through laptop speakers. Good for Bejar, cause he's been churning out great music for a long time and I'm happy for him to find an audience, even if I'm personally yet to click with KaputtCity of Daughters is from the other end of his career - it's not his first album but his first really good one. This is almost as stripped-down as his debut, based mostly around acoustic guitar and voice, though with some Emax synthesiser interludes and a nice backing band here and there. The Emax interludes aren't just filler - 'Emax II' is a lovely bit of electroacoustic residue.  It's tough for me to write about Destroyer as I find him to be the Canadian indie-rock reincarnation of Wallace Stevens - difficult as all-fuck to 'explain' but more than easy to be moved by. The musical cadences are the bonus that Mr. Bejar has over Mr. Stevens, so there's added non-meaning through emphasis and catchiness. For example, 'I Want This Cyclops' is a wonderful jaunty ride, but it's something about two sisters on a plane and an actual saskwatch with one eye, and the fuck if I can figure it out. But that's modernism at it's best - I can put my own meaning into things, and I've done that a lot. Maybe I just like singing along about the 'new heretical dawn'. Did I mention I love Destroyer? I've been immersed in his work since Streethawk: A Seduction, which we'll get to soon enough on the CD blog, and I've always seen City of Daughters, Thief, and Streehawk as a trilogy even though there's not much to link them besides a similar sound in the backing bands (though the lineups aren't consistent). This is a less ambitious Destroyer - before the big production of This Night, the midi experiments of Your Blues, the temporary 'return to form' of Rubies and of course Kaputt's 80's disco coke gloss. But again, what makes these records so different? The lyrics are always great, so it really comes down to my own personal tastes - I like the simplicity of songs like 'School, And the Girls Who Go There' more - they're somewhere in-between coffeeshop troubadour and indie pick-up band. Jennifer's halter top is a consecrated altar, after all. Like Queen, he actually saved the title track for his next album. This also has 'No Cease Fires! (Crimes Against the State of Our Love, Baby)' which should have been a smash hit anthem in an alternate universe (how many times do I type those words in these pages?). It's a confident record, a real portrait of a Canadian 1996 at least as I imagine it, and the start of something great.

20 May 2012

Deerhunter - 'Halcyon Digest' (4AD)

A disturbing, matte cover. White vinyl. Many typefaces. Sadness lingers, sticky from the residue of Microcastle just a few hours earlier. When it bounces, it bounces, but I keep going back to brittle suburban concrete, the sounds of parking lots strewn with tire streaks. Darkness always doesn't make much sense, or is it since? So many typefaces in conflict, but that's the errant afterthought of language which flows through this and so many other Cox-penned platters; words blow across this parking lot, carefully chosen as they are, and different bits stick. Bright lights, dim glows; it's not a contradiction. Memory is everywhere - it seeps through the cracks in the guitar arpeggios, dripping down like oil over every surface. Explicitly called in titles and lyrics, but that's always been there. Let's leave the death trip behind for the real pain is in living. Or something likethat. And yet this is done with so many major key uplifts, the delicate taste of building soundramps, a band coming together to create a vision with less reliance on the wet, processed soups and a strange drive towards, well, accessibility. It's not just a teenage nostalgia at play here; it's movies, shot on super-8, of dusty rooms slightly out of focus, with no people to be seen. There's an absence of affect at times, despite the strains of emotion in the voice ('Basement Scene')!  And when it's pointed - 'He Would Have Laughed', dedicated to Jay Reatard who after all covered 'Fluorescent Grey' so brilliantly - the loss is just all the more bigger, cast over with a withdrawn pallor. Halcyon it is, the next great step forward. The 'other guy' wrote two songs here, and my god are they great - 'Fountain Stairs' rings out like complex bubblegum, magic and delicate. It's Deerhunter at their best, and perhaps their masterpiece they'll never top. But I wait.

Deerhunter - 'Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.' (Kranky)

I fell in love with Microcastle while falling asleep to it every night on earphones, during a tumultuous period of my own life. Bradford Cox's subtle songs really spoke to me then - I began to imagine deep rivers of melancholy underneath what would otherwise be simple, even gothy lyrics. This is a 'mellow' album, akin to low-key classics like Mekons Journey to the End of the Night or Big Star's third album. That's not to say Deerhunter doesn't function as the exploratory rock band they established themselves as in previous releases - especially on side 2 - but that there's less of a bass-led groove here, and this is a record more concerned with melody, lyrics and texture than jamming out. Maybe this explains my love for Microcastle - even though it's a 'breakout' album, it's somewhat of a departure. The record opens with 'Cover Me (Slowly)', a slow instrumental intro, starting the theme that's expanded in 'Agoraphobia'. This immediately marks a distinct change from Cryptograms-era Deerhunter - it's much more dry, more precise, and almost overly mild. Actually, it sounds just like the song 'AT&T' by Pavement, and this might also be why I fell in love with it. Microcastle veers between songs of desolation and strange, missing nostalgia, always rooted in pain and loss. 'Little Kids' is a built around an addictive melody, with a guitar riff that could be sing-song cute in another context. It's a song that paints a dark portrait of adolescence, which slowly ascends into a thick sheet of soundhaze without ever letting go of it's sing-along chorus. Most of the delivery on Microcastle is slow and restrained; the image of death lingers over everything, but you have to really work for it. The title cut is a beautiful minimalist sketch built around Cox's voice and an electric guitar which, when it finally explodes into the full-band stomp, has quite a payload. 'Calvary Scars' continues this wobbly, sparse delivery, letting the guitar overtones quilt up behind the voice; 'Green Jacket' fades to almost nothingness. The flipside starts with the melting shimmery 'Activa' before breaking into 'Nothing Ever Happened', the clear 'single' from the record. This twisting tune is driven by a strong bassline and it feels like a holdover from Cryptograms - not the waxed-paper vision of the rest of the album, but an appropriate inclusion anyway. The tune ends with a dizzying, descending guitar line that has traces of the Feelies around the edges. The jangle creeps in throughout the album, sometimes just as colour and sometimes as structure. 'Never Stops' and 'Saved by Old Times' both employ a confident 4/4 drive around their moaning, yearning tales of seasonal affective disorder and living in the past. A great album,yeah, but it's only half the package; like Cryptograms, Kranky is making sure I get my money's worth of Deerhunter for this purchase. Weird Era Cont. was thrown into this as a second LP, intended to be some sort of bonus album to combat leaked mp3s, or something like that. It's a bit of a Dead Letter Office, consisting (I guess) of Microcastle outtakes, but it's still pretty solid. The most successful tracks are fast rockers, such as  'Focus Group' and 'Operation', yet they're still holding a more stripped-down feel than anything on the regular album, which suggests that these tracks are unfinished. But a less polished Deerhunter is still nice; the sketches are lovely. 'Cicadas' attains a nearly free-jazz clatter; 'Ghost Outfit' is little more than a synth experiment, but interludes are lovely; see side 2's 'Slow Swords' for a real mood piece. These instrumental jams recall the ambient/song dichotomy of Cryptograms, though 'Weird Era' sounds more like No Neck Blues Band and 'Moon Witch Cartridge' is kinda goofy. 'Vox Celeste' brings out the more shoegazer qualities of their work, with vocals melting into a sea of reverb (but the vibe is still good, good). It's brother, 'Vox Humana' starts with big Phil Spector drums, which slowly recede into the distance as the mid-range gloom takes charge, subduing Cox's semi-spoken vocals under the warm reverb. The whole thing ends with a bubbly, melting version of 'Calvary Scars', thus tying the two LPs together into a conceptual whole.

Deerhunter - 'Cryptograms/Fluorescent Grey' (Kranky)

Somehow Deerhunter have crept into my life and become this powerful, meaningful band - the kind of rich n' deep artistes that fulfill almost everything I'm looking for in music (but struggle to continually find as I get older). Big words I guess, but I mean them -- there hasn't been an indie/rock artist that I've connected to this much in years. My love affair really began with Microcastle, but Cryptograms, the predecessor, is also fantastic. It's a strangely structured album, and this 2xLP reissue spreads it awkwardly over three sides, making it even harder for me to view it through the traditional bipartite rock album lens. Deerhunter would have never belonged on Kranky during their early Labradford/Bowery Electric/Tomorrowland days, but in recent years the label has embraced more song-based efforts and this record's pretty much a perfect fit. Bradford Cox began his ascent into the pantheon of great contemporary songwriters here, but it was a sneaky climb. Some of the catchiest songs on Cryptograms are crammed into the back, like 'Strange Lights' and 'Haze St.' - the former could have been a bright, brassy college radio hit, at least in my college days. In terms of album sequence,  Deerhunter here continually shift between the songs and the more ambient workouts, of which 'White Ink' and 'Red Ink' are the centerpieces. The most brilliant thing about Deerhunter is not this dichotomy though, nor the moments of integration when the sound exploration is built around a strong song (such as the dazzling title track, or the thunderous 'Octet'); the brilliance is in Cox's songwriting, which attains some of the most true melancholy I've ever listened to, but in a subtle way. Emotionally, Cryptograms doesn't jump out at me as much as the later records, but I haven't really invested myself in this album as much as the subsequent two. I know that any investment will pay off as it has for Microcastle and Halcyon Digest - this is a band in a brilliant run of music right now and I don't know where it's going to end. Cryptograms is building up to this wave, but not quite there yet. However, this lovely gatefold release is packaged with the Fluorescent Grey EP, and this is precisely the moment where the brilliant run begins. These four songs are about as perfect as things get, Deerhunter's Watery, Domestic. I really do think of Deerhunter like Pavement because I think Cox might be my favourite songwriter since them, and there seems to be as much depth, to me, in these songs, as in Malkmus's 'Greenlander' or 'Home'. The title track of the EP is where the creep factor begins - it's an exploration of death and obsession, lyrics almost perfectly underwritten, and it's just a great achievement. 'Dr. Glass' sets down a misleading groove with a fun woodblock/handclap accent, though it's about useless bodies. And this is what I love again - the subtle darkness, disguised by a flamboyant, psychedelic colour, yet it's not exactly like other psych music. 'Wash Off' is among my favourite Deerhunter songs too, and an excellent way to end (more so than 'Heatherwood' ends Cryptograms, which seems to demand a nonexistent coda). It's sharp and smooth at the same time, twisting around with wicked caresses. "I was sixteen" is the refrain, the counterpoint to "You were my god/in high school", making this EP really about adolescence, which of course rhymes with fluorescence. So fucking good. Please keep it coming.

Elton Dean's Ninesense - 'Happy Daze' (Ogun)

They're called Ninesense cause there's 9 of them, get it? Elton Dean was in Soft Machine but here's a place to show off his jazzy side. This is from '77 and the liner notes, laid in out a lovingly hand-written manner, talk extensively about the history and composition of the band. I like this record lots, but I have a major soft spot for the South African expat/Chris McGregor axis, of which Louis Moholo and Harry Miller are present here. That's a hell of a rhythm section and they really start off with a warm inviting ball on 'Nicrotto', and then into a propulsive, slow swing on 'Seven for Lee'. The other 7, led of course by Dean's confident if slightly indistinct alto, never overplay. This is a who's-who of 70s British jazzbos, with some names I sort of recognize and others that I don't at all. The duo of Marc Charig and Harry Beckett are the high points for me, who play trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and tenor horn (though I'm not one to really distinguish these). They give the ninetet a bright and brassy assonance that cuts through the repetitive themes laid down by the saxes and trombones.  The opening cut 'Nicrotto' is such a beautiful start to a record - such a gentle swell of harmony - and yet it also starts pulling away from itself about halfway through, where Keith Tippett's piano revs the whole band towards a discordant mess. It comes crashing back down into some nice, smouldering ashes, and the record never actually gets better. 'Seven for Lee' maybe gets a bit too Apollonian for my tastes, but it works well against the more outré sounds heard elsewhere, and it has an excellent start, lurching out of the aforementioned ashes. The flipside is a bit more traditional, opening with 'Sweet F.A.', I assume a paen to the football association of England. This is where Dean and Tippett really get their freak on; long, dizzying solos fill the 11 minutes of this song, over Harry Miller's repeating bass chords. It's jazz-by-numbers, but Tippett's solo in particular is stunning, sounding like he has 4 hands. The closer, 'Three For All', is not as wild as it's title might suggest, falling into a hard-bop groove that works because of the confident rhythms behind it. Tippet's piano chords punctuate all the right moments, giving this a nice momentum. Happy it is, a daze it's not, but it's a successful outing for sure.

6 May 2012

Dead Luke - 'American Haircut' (Florida's Dying)

There's a new strain of psychedelia kicking about the American underground the last few years. It's characterised by a return to lyrical songwriting (after the more jammy, improvisatory neo-pysch made large by people like NNCK and MV/EE) and voluntarily lo-fi production techniques. Dead Luke fits right in with this, with lots of strummy guitars, drugged out organs, and reverb-drenched vocals, occasionally unintelligible. I guess this is a one-man band, though with a few guests, and a thick, full sound.  I listened to this record inside out because both sides are labeled "A", so I (of course) started with side B by accident, which leads from a hazy midpoint ('You're Bringing Me Down') into 'God Bless the Midwest, God Roast the East Coast', a rambling, scattered sketch. 'Lil' Red Ridin Hood', compositionally credited to an anonymous third party, is a deceptively complex tune. Like much of this record, it hides behind a twee wall, with home-made style casio keys and a bouncing melody. But by the end, it builds up nicely, and the recording fidelity is revealed to be more than just a 4-track mess - there's a lot of clarity there, it's just chosen sparingly. When Dead Luke stretches things out, such as 'Sunrise', it's quite welcome - there's a sea of tremolo to sail across. Said track, which ends side A and therefore ends the record for me, is a melting semi-instrumental with great Eastern tinges to the acoustics, and deep, reverberating percussion. The voices in the background are distant and murmuring, giving this track a hash bar feel. 'Trapped in Lust', the proper opener, has a stark, confident, and relatively sparse feel that shows this guy's songwriting chops. More has probably come since this came out in 2010 but I don't know where to go next - but this is a nice random pickup that fits in well with the sounds of today.

20 April 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'Bedtime for Democracy' (Alternative Tentacles)

The DK's last record is one that I've barely listened to, though it comes as a nice surprise. Here, they find the perfect balance between the fast and furious hardcore sound of In God We Trust, Inc. and their more flowing guitar leads. There's 21 songs here and they come by fast, but this is the best production technique since Fresh Fruit (credited to Biafra, though the engineering to someone else) so it's significantly more pleasureable to listen to. By 1986, Dead Kennedys were deep in the Reagan mire and starting to be consumed by other things - Jello's spoken word career was just beginning, and the whole Tipper Gore/PMRC thing became all consuming. Let's talk about censorship! But first, let's get this last album out of the way, which tackles all of the usual topics and a few new ones. 'Shrink' gets into sci-fi territory, as Biafra discusses mankind's tendency towards miniaturisation. 'Gone With My Wind' is a thrashy suicide tune, and probably should have become more of a punk classic. Side two also debuts 'A Commercial', a hip-hop style skit that tries to skewer everything at once, and sorta flops. It's actually when the DK's avoid larger societal issues and address the problems within the punk scene that I think they shine here. 'Do The Slag', penned by East Bay Ray, is by far the most fun track. 'Chickenshit Conformist' and 'Anarchy for Sale' are bubbling with Jello's bile, and also highlights. Or maybe this signals the time when punk became consumed by it's own internal struggles, and actually we should be lamenting this insularity. Regardless, 'Chickenshit' (along with 'Cesspools in Eden') is one of the only moments of musical variety here, clocking in at over 5 minutes with actual intelligble lyrics at points. It's an epic, a better epic than 'Cesspools' hard-rock plodding, and (along with Frankenchrist's 'MTV Get Off the Air', which sadly I don't have) among the finest of late DK's songs. This LP should have come with the 'Fuck Facts' fake newspaper, but my copy was missing it (no doubt because I bought it at a Scottish car boot sale for 20p). This progression through most of Dead Kennedys discography has been fun, but ultimately I think back to their first album and 'Forward to Death', still their finest moment. Oh well.

15 April 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'Plastic Surgery Disasters' (Alternative Tentatcles/Faulty Products)

Plastic Surgery Disasters, with it's Michael Wells cover, for some reason actually horrifies me. I'm fine with other great gross-out covers, including the original Big Black Headache, but something about this really upsets me. But the music? Well, it's underrated, at least by me. I always forget how good Plastic Surgery Disasters is, as it's overshadowed by the fresh fruit of Fresh Fruit and the cohesive controversy of Frankenchrist. Middle DKs is, well, confident. The surf-lick guitars are moving slightly more in the heavy metal direction (listen to 'Bleed for Me' if you don't believe it), and the hardcore thrash edges of the In God We Trust EP are toned down (though the production/mastering not much better). Jello's voice has never sounded more waddly-good, and the opening cut, 'Government Flu' is majestic. By this point he's mastered the ability to ratchet up the hysteria, and it saves otherwise mediocre songs like 'I am the Owl'. Some of the vitriol might be misplaced - 'Terminal Preppie' feels more like material Descendents should be covering, and 'Trust Your Mechanic'/'Well-Paid Scientist' are back-to-back assaults on expertise. I almost want to accuse Dead Kennedys of subtlety here, as 'Moon Over Marin' is more poetic than an environmentalist rant should be. It's also one of the best cuts of the DKs career, with an anthemic guitar line that belies the sarcasm everything else is rooted in. This LP is either played to death or again mastered badly, but do I really want a Dead Kennedys record to sound like a booming arena-rock masterpiece? Let the buzz and distortion wash over everything like a, well, 'Buzzbomb'.

19 March 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'In God We Trust, Inc.' (Alternative Tentacles/Faulty Products)

I forgot I had this DK's EP and then got pretty excited to listen to it when it came up next in this never-ending alphabetical death march. In God We Trust, Inc. is a major step away from the surf-bounce that underpins Fresh Fruit; it makes it's presence known rather quickly with 'Religious Vomit'. East Bay Ray's often inventive guitar leads are mostly absent on this record; instead we get the furious thrash-punk you know they were capable of (and is heard most certainly on Fresh Fruit songs like 'I Kill Children', but here it's more aggro, sharper). There's little correlation to the goofy, performative punk we heard before, except at the end of side two (with 'Bigger Problem Now' and the cover of 'Rawhide'). Side one blazes past; Biafra is spitting out words, often unintelligibly, and getting through a lot of lyrics in little time. The targets are the usual - religion, the medical industry, poor environmental regulations - and the subtlety nearly non-existent. But can you argue with lyrics like 'All religions make me wanna throw up / all religions make me sick' / All religions suck'? (I, more or less, concur). The production is piss-poor; everything is an indistinct cacophony of solid-state amps, and this platter spins at 33rpm for some reason when a faster mastering job might have helped. On side two, Biafra begins by commenting on how we're hearing take four of an "overproduced" Martin Hannett recording of 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off'. Of course, it's the best-sounding jam on the record, but it's not really produced by Hannett. 'We've Got a Bigger Problem Now' shines light onto why this is a tighter, angrier DKs; it's a redux of 'California Über Alles', this time chronicling the more terrifying reality of the Reagan presidency. And that's where it all makes sense; Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables was a product of the Carter administration; there really was a bigger problem by 1981, and it didn't turn out well for anyone. Except the super rich, of course. This version is practically a novelty track, beginning with a (actually lovely sounding) lounge/swing take, full of 7th chords and false swagger. Jello's doing his thing here, maybe the genesis of his spoken word/extemporaneous style he'd build his later career around; it actually reminds me of some of the Sun City Girls recordings featuring Uncle Jim. When it kicks in, we finally hear the scary clown-vibrato of his voice which is largely absent on this EP (or else it's just produced so badly we can't hear it). I remember when among the frustration of George W Bush stealing the 2000 presidential election, one of my friends pointed out that "Well, at least this will usher in a new golden era of punk and hardcore." This may or may not have happened (I largely checked out of that world, unfortunately), but it's interesting to think how this particular subculture might have developed had Reagan never taken office. I'm sure DKs would have kept writing songs like 'Let's Lynch the Landlord', but what about artists like Black Flag? The Minutemen? Camper Van Beethoven? I sure wish Reagan had lost, but let's at least see this as a (very very tiny) silver lining.

13 March 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables' (Cherry Red)

The first time I bought Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables was in 8th or 9th grade, at a local chain store called Camelot Music. The format of choice, of course, was the cassette, and I rocked the shit out of this tape in my high school years. The political-themed satire was not lost on my young mind, nor were the fast tempos and rocking guitars. I loved Dead Kennedys, even delving into Jello Biafra's spoken word records (which I actually used to own on vinyl! Hooray for podcasts in expensive formats). Listening now, I still think the band never made a record better than this, but they're also playing in a really weird style that I didn't pick up on when I was young. Dead Kennedys really don't sound like anyone else, ever, even in punk. It's too melodic for hardcore, and too theatrical overall. They have a strange surf-music edge that cuts through everything else, and then Biafra who sing-shouts like a rabid animal being electrocuted (which inadvertently made him one of the unique vocal stylists in all of rock music, though he'll never be recognised as such). Biafra actually wrote the words and music to the majority of these songs and he has tendencies towards Phil Spector-style 60s pop. If you don't believe it, listen to 'Let's Lynch the Landlord', which is pretty much a bouncy Ronettes song with novelty lyrics. But DKs are too sophisticated to be novelty music, even novelty punk, and there are moments of genuine anger at the forthcoming Reagan 80s throughout the lyrics. All are readable, of course, on the brilliant Winston Smith collage if your copy is lucky enough to have one included. Mine wasn't, but then a few years ago at a flea market in Scotland I found a copy of this record with the actual LP missing, but collage intact. And as political theatre, Biafra is hilarious, since the punk song is the perfect format to taunt without needed footnotes or citations. Some of Fresh Fruit's finest moments are the less pointed ones, such as 'Stealing People's Mail' or the brilliant 'Your Emotions' (written by guitarist East Bay Ray). But the high point of the whole record comes from former guitarist 6025's contribution, 'Forward to Death', which is a perfectly articulated burst of pure nihilism. It feels out of place on Fresh Fruit, probably suiting a different band, which is probably why 6025 was out of the picture by the time they recorded this. But thank Franken-Christ that they still recorded it. His other contribution, 'Ill in the Head', contains a bit of edgy guitar interplay that is another reminder how precisely good DKs are as a rock band. The two most famous songs from this album are 'Holiday in Cambodia' and 'California Uber Alles', both of which I've listened to so many times I can't even hear them anymore. That 'California' was articulate enough to critique Jerry Brown for neoliberal populism is remarkable, I suppose. But the twisted cover version of 'Viva Las Vegas' which closes the album is maybe the truest expression of Biafra's America - a messy ball of chaos and vapidity which, despite his anger, he secretly loves.

12 March 2012

The Dead C - 'The Operation of the Sonne' (Siltbreeze)

An old friend of mine (who I have mentioned before, such is his influence on my own musical development - and he reads this blog. Hi!) once told me about a crazy drunken stoned fling he had. The woman in question actually had a Dead C tattoo, a story that I found incredible on many levels, but especially because it was not a tattoo of the Dead C logo, but of the band itself. On her chest, if I remember his tale correctly, she had the comic-book drawing of messrs. Morley, Russell and Yeats rocking out - the same drawing which adorns the label of side 2 on The Operation of the Sonne. If you're still out there, mystery woman, come to me. In the meantime, there's a tear in my eye for this, the last vinyl foray for this band that we'll cover. Operation is a departure, though that's an easy assessment to make for a record built around only three songs, and only one of them resembling a "regular" Dead C song (a la 'Power', 'World', etc). What really makes this a departure is the experimental nature of the jams. There's electronic elements present, spazzing everywhere on side 1 and dominating 'Mordant Heaven' (which may bear some resemblance to Trapdoor's 'Heaven'). Like a car alarm soaked in despair, 'Mordant Heaven' is about the battle between the guitar riff and the repetitive synth loop, or ring modulator, or whatever it is. But 'Mordant' is actually the most conventional Dead C track here. The opener, 'The Marriage of Reason and Squalor', is an epic, smashing beast where Bruce Russell recites some hermetic text, the biggest nod to his occultist tendencies we've yet encountered. It's deep, not necessarily in lyrical content but in thick slabs of low-mid greasepaint. It might be the most memorable track here, but it ain't the best - that award goes to 'Air', which is the entirety of side two. 'Air' is aptly named, and almost non-existent at points. The first 75% of this (as well as much of the record, to be honest) is Yeatsless, unless he is playing guitar or radio static or something. Throughout, guitars try to start a riff, actually proceeding from the more angular, disjointed side heard on the last track of Clyma. But do they get anywhere? It's hard to say - every bit of direction seems to change. At times they sound combative, at other times, unaware. There's a slow procession towards silence, and the middle section of 'Air' is a long, slow breath. This could have got them signed to Kranky, in 1994, if they cared. Then, the volume level jumps, like a recording error more than anything, and we get the group jam you've all been waiting for - except we really don't, because it resists every urge to thrash about and make a ruckus. It's not so much a kinder, gentler Dead C as it is a Dead C more interested in free currents. But there's something still so anti- about it all for me; you fill in your own blanks. Things change after this - The White House, Repent and Tusk close out their Siltbreeze years and also are CD-only I believe - and though those records have many, many, merits, it's really the beginning of Phase II.

11 March 2012

The Dead C - 'Clyma Est Mort/Tentative Power' (Ba Da Bing!)

Here we go again, but I don't think there's anything I need to say about Clyma Est Mort again, since I posted a review only moments ago -- but I did listen to it again, and I must say the Ba Da Bing reissue does sound better: brighter, louder, and more dynamic. Whether this is due to some remastering job, the thicker vinyl, or just my own psychosomatic imagination, I don't know. But we'll talk here about Tentative Power, a 12" EP included here as the other half of the gatefold. At first glance this might appear to be some of the Trapdoor Fucking Exit tracks in a different sequence, but listening actually reveals them to be different recordings. 'Hell Is Now Love' and 'Bone' come from a 1991 Siltbreeze 7" and both versions are reedy and clangy compared to their TFE counterparts. The first featured an even more nervous run through 'Love' than what's on the CD, with Morley's vocals unusually high, causing me to double check that this was actually supposed to be at 45rpm (it is). 'Power' and 'Mighty' are always welcome - how many versions can there be? - and these come from a Forced Exposure 7" also from '91. 'Power' in particular takes it's time to get revved up, and the reverberations sound brilliant on this. The two obscurities are at the end - 'Radiation', an meandering jam with an organ, and another version of 'Power' from 2006 (!), subtitled 'Fallujah version'.  This is probably the least remarkable, apart from the presence again of an organ of keyboard in the distance -- but 'Power' always retains a certain, well, power. 

8 March 2012

The Dead C - 'Clyma Est Mort' (Siltbreeze)

I suppose this is the live album that Tom Lax praises in the liner notes to the CD issue of Eusa Kills, which is a shameless bit of self-promotion since he was responsible for releasing it. I forgive him, cause he's right - this is an essential document of what a brilliant band sounded like at the peak of their powers. That it's actually a "fake" live album is irrelevant -Lax has detailed the construction and release of this record in a Volcanic Tongue column, which I can refer you to. But of course it's live - just not in front of an audience! The album starts off with a sludgy, dim wall of detuned guitar, and when Morley's voice breaks in, it's like dawn breaking through the clouds. How appropriate that the track is called 'Sunshine'! The improvisatory nature of Clyma Est Mort is evident and also familiar by this point. There's lyrics, though they seem fairly improvised on jams like 'Dirt for Harry' and 'Electric' : "Shave your legs, shave your arms!" It's a good mix of hits and less familiar tunes; side two gets into the more aggro/hardcore side seen on the Dead C vs. Sebadoh single ('Highway' and 'Ein Kampf, Ein Seig'), and this take on 'Sky' is probably their best recorded one (not counting the YouTube version already alluded to). This 'Sky' has a fat undertow that drags throughout, sputtering into a weirdly unidentified radio broadcast. And, how about 'Electric'? The guitar is a sinister buzz-saw and it slowly gurgles and erupts, like it never wants to end. On the flip is a slow, heavy take on 'Power' that might also be the definitive version. It sounds like 100 layers of screeching guitars, assembled in a raging maelstrom that takes the best Lee/Thurston jams and casts them into another dimension. Yeats propels it along, climaxing when needed, conveying the lyrics 'take your fucking shit out of here' with the utmost urgency yet languid thumping. The jam out on the end is utter fucking magic. After a nice take on 'World' (Lax's favourite tun of their) the album closes with 'Das Fluten, Das Fluten (Oh Mama I can't go)', a real Dead C oddity as it's a Beefheart styled jam. In a band with so many versions of their classic songs, and so much overlap, it might seem like overkill, particularly if you listen to a bunch of these in a row like I have. But like most of the multi-record gauntlets in this project, I've found a renewed passion for these records when listened to in a linear way, and right now I feel like I could keep going even if they had 100 more versions of 'Power' to sort through.

15 February 2012

Dead C - 'Eusa Kills/Helen Said This' (Ba Da Bing)

I love this, and thanks to Ba Da Bing again, it looks and sounds great. The cover is the most beautiful blur, just like the songs: a building, swirling morass of dissonant guitars both cloudy and clangy. And the mastering job on this, certainly a front-runner for "best Dead C album", is sterling. Drop the stylus on 'Scarey Nest' and listen to how the screaming voices ring out of the platter, and then compare to the flat-sounding CD edition. (Don't worry, we will soon). This is probably the most song-based Dead C record but it's as uncompromising as Tusk. It's actually fairly minimal - the production is top-notch studio recording, much more hi-fi than our various versions of 'Max Harris', and for this I am glad. I had this for so many years on CD so I never thought of it as two sides, but it's a classic rock album structure. 'Now I Fall' is the epic to bring Side 1 towards it's ringing conclusion, titled 'I Was Here' in response. The two songs fit together beyond their titles, thanks to the distorted Bigmuff vocalising and juxtaposition of rhythmic repetition with free-form swirls. And on the flip is 'Children', the destroyed cover of T.Rex's 'Children of the Revolution' (no credit given, of course). Often forgotten as one of the greatest cover versions, the Dead C are actually quite faithful through their destruction. 'Maggot' is the side 2 epic, a seemingly endless journey through glue-soaked guitars soaked in glue. The elegiac 'Envelopment' is a perfect closer - a strange moment of serenity. New Zealand may have never produced a finer album than Eusa Kills. But wait, there's more! Ba Da Bing has lovingly packaged Eusa Kills with the Helen Said This EP as a 45pm bonus 12", thus pairing what's probably the Dead C's finest full-length with their finest short-length. I remember reading about how 'Helen' was the Dead C's greatest song, which I finally found on the Trapdoor Fucking Exit CD, and though I don't think it compares to 'Power' or 'Hell is Now Love' or maybe even 'Scarey Nest', it's sure fucking great anyway. And like 'Scarey Nest' it has a drilling one-note guitar solo, though it's not so much a solo here as part of the general jamm/mess. We're back to slightly-better-than-Wakman fidelity and it's great, never stopping the tune from churning, lifting off, and eventually reaching it's tranquil extended coda. I remember seeing them live, finally, at the big crazy Thurston-curated ATP a few years back, and their freefrom Language Recordings-style sound slowly built into the hits. And when they played 'Helen' I felt like I had completed some full circle. (If I was hip to their sound in 1995, I coulda seen 'em in a small club in my hometown, but unfortunately I was still in diapers then, musically). 'Bury's on the flip and this is the tranquil, Stars of the Liddy beauty that these guys rarely attempt, but they do it so masterfully it makes you wonder what other stars were aligned in 1989 down there. This was originally released on Flying Nun, which is almost as mind-blowing as the music.

7 February 2012

Dead C - 'DR503 / The Sun Stabbed EP' (Ba Da Bing)

It starts off with another version of 'Max Harris', a bit shorter this time, and then segues into 'Speed Kills', as close to perfect as the Dead C could ever be. Because there's something contradictory about the idea of perfection here - this ain't Dark Side of the Moon, with it's overly-worked, carefully-EQ'ed guitar tracks. Yet the Dead C aren't a bunch of tossed-off nonsense, despite what many listeners might think. "Deliberate" is maybe a better word; everything you hear is done for a reason. These slow moans from the south island of New Zealand are as radical and distinct of an aesthetic vision as anything by, say, Black Sabbath or Van Morrison. There's nods to their predecessors, the Velvet Underground of course the obvious one (though I make the mistake of associating any spoken vocalisations with 'The Murder Mystery' - see 'The Wheel' here). But the interplay and dialogue of the guitars and the rhythms is so masterful that I actually put the Dead C on a level with artists like Can or the Miles Davis band - a total mindmeld of communication. This is another lovely Ba Da Bing vinyl reissue, combining the DR503 album (which is different, partially, then the DR503C compact disc that will be shortly addressed on Glass Mastered Cinderblocks) and the great, great 'Sun Stabbed' EP (which spins here as a separate 45rpm 12"). 'Three Years' appears on both, but I'll take the epic version of it from the EP. It's significantly more spacious, allowing Morley's voice to soar as only it can. Also notable is 'Bad Politics', a sloppy, awkward punk rock song that foreshadows the vs. Sebadoh 7" (which will be shortly addressed in Denial Embriodery soon). In between we get booming, lush guitars - how did Ba Da Bing manage to master these so well?  It's hard to believe this could even be possible given the source materia. 'I Love This' could work as a masterpiece of minimalist guitar composition if presented as such, but here it's "mere" filler. DR503 ends with 'Polio', which sounds like a remnant from Morley's association with This Kind of Punishment. Maybe that's just the sound of the south island, but these gloomy chord progressions are iconic of some lost mysterious soundworld and still speak volumes to me today. And this release just absolutely slays; there's enough of a song basis that we haven't merged into the territory of The White House yet, let alone Tusk (though those are also great records); and there's little details like the use of the acoustic guitar in 'Polio' and 'Speed Kills' that situates this in an ambience that is absolutely magical and odd.

30 January 2012

Dead C - 'Dead Sea Perform Max Harris' (Ba Da Bing)

The heavens converged into a beautiful celestial jackoff a few years ago, when the Ba Da Bing label decided to start reissuing early Dead C work in 180g vinyl editions. This was truly a great decision by the label, and I've scooped them up enthusiastically; Dead C are one of those bands who I frequently return to, as they seem to get better with age. Chronologically we begin with Dead See Perform Max Harris, which is two side-long versions of the same song, sort of.  Both were originally released on cassette in '87 and these are (I believe) the earliest known Dead C recordings! What strikes me is how certain of an aesthetic they already have here, both in terms of songwriting, recording quality, and artwork.  'With help from Max Harris' on side 1 starts with a ringing riff and then proceeds to launch itself into it's own ass, thundering along with lots of detuned lower-string thud-thud-thud. Morley's vocals are the way we always love them - buried, atonal, and unintelligible. The overtones somehow coagulate even though this was probably recorded on a boombox, but there's the unmistakable presence of the room, which I guess was their practice space.  The song structure fades away and the jam rides out, but they never become a jam-band (a cohesion that i think remains through their entire career). It ends with a tape splice. On the flip, 'Beyond help from Max Harris' is a slightly more distant version; the plinking and chugging continues, but the song immediately starts to fragment, like Russell and Morley are pulling apart from each other, swerving around a centre, and occasionally converging in a beautiful harmony. Yeats backs off and lets the guitars create a downtune universe. Right when it's about to sputter out, he brings in the clicks and it starts to build up again (with some moments of tape flutters and hesitations). After years of listening to this band I still feel pinpricks of excitement on my arms sometimes; hearing this on vinyl re-inspires me because it's so boundary-smashing and expressive at the same time.

16 January 2012

Dead at Twenty Four - 'Blast Off Motherfucker!' (Ride the Snake)

Here's another long-lost artist, reissued to enhance the world with what would have otherwise remained in total obscurity.  In the case of Dead at 24, the obscurity was a self-released cassette from the mid/late 90s, which is now probably only found in cardboard boxes located in dusty Pittsburgh closets.  Boston label Ride the Snake did a loving vinyl reissue of Blast Off Motherfucker!, in the process doing a bit of historical preservation of a chaotic rock band which feels strangely contemporary now, particularly in the age of Psychedelic Horseshit and bands like that.  Dead at 24 was centered around two songwriters, Alan Lewandowski and Ernie Bullard, and featured Steve Boyle on electronics, synths and other noises.  Boyle (who wrote the liner notes) is more of an Allan Ravenstein than an Eno-in-Roxy type, particularly with the heavy heavy Pere Ubu influence on this band.  But it's only in a few places that we really hear him let it rip (such as the brilliant 'Ladders to Fire'); otherwise his presence is mostly felt, some texture that maybe is just lost in the analog hiss.  The band lumbers between confident indie-style rock dirges and the psyched-out fuckery of tracks like '(Feels Like) Oedipus Wrecks'.  Lewandowski, who later employed a wicked-good country-folk direction in a band called the Working Poor (whose complete discography vinyl box set will be released in 2016 on Underbite Records), is the damaged poet laureate of Pittsburgh's grimy subcultures.  His lyrics range from experiential glossolalia to unrepentant negative romanticism, with the gleam of a marquee moon in his eyes.  Bullard's tunes, however, are somewhat more stream-of-consciousness and with some interlocking guitar wizardry - the tracks that feel more cohesively "band".  Drummer Sheryl Johnston glues it together with a tom-heavy monotony that pummels over any of the more lyrical subtlety.   A band out of time, for sure - their influences clearly harken back to the late 70s and early 80s, and their ramshackle give-and-take would situate them nicely now, but in the math- and post-rock infused Pittsburgh of 1997, there just wasn't anyone listening.

15 January 2012

Edmond de Deyster - 'Selectie 01' (Ultra Eczema)

Ah, how one craves the archival obscurity, and the blossoming excitement that comes with a nice reissue. Edmond de Deyster is a Flemish synth pioneer who OD'd in 1999, leaving a massive pile of unreleased analogue synthesiser recordings.  This series of LPs (of which I only have the first, sorry) comes from the stack of reel-to-reel tapes he left behind, and dates from 1975.  Selectie 01 begins with a difficult side-long piece, a pure experiment, where high and low tones fight against organisational strategies, while ultimately assembling together.  De Deyster's edge is soft, with rounded hues that emerge in and out of hazy darkness.  It's a tough way to start a record, even a record of experimental solo synth marketed at fans of such a sound.  It takes ages to coagulate (or arguably, never does).  The flipside is a bit more palatable - split into three tracks, each with distinct compositional identity.  Side two cut one is a classic slab of slowly unfolding malevolence, packed with sounds eeking out toward murky unknowns.  It works itself out slowly, and while I'm sure most of De Deyster's work is largely improvised, this feels very certain.  Compared to the side two track two's ambulance-shards, beeping throughout, side two track one is relatively placid, a tone picked up again on the album's closer.  This could all be a hoax - an attempt to build a mythic legend, when these sounds were actually made in an Antwerp basement in 2006 - but does it really matter?  Would I have been as interested?  There's a certain gesture of faith in releasing an LP of an old, dead, lost artist - particularly if one still adheres to the standard routine that an artist must perform live to "promote" the record - an impossibility in the case of a reissue.  So the label sticks it out anyway and still produces the record, even though there's less chance to recuperate the investment.  I'm not the biggest fan of solo synth experimentation, so I hereby admit that I probably wouldn't have bought this if it was, say, a Dolphins into the Future LP.  As to how it affects my enjoyment of the record, well, I'm not completely sure of that either.  One purpose of this exercise is to listen to music as music, but then I've had trouble avoiding my own extrinsic readings filtering in.  So we'll leave this here and move on...