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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...