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28 February 2016

Gordy Horn ‎- 'The Glue That Holds The Kids Together' (What The...?)

Four tracks spanning five years of Gordy Horn, a chaotic Cincinnati ensemble that has a bit of a kitchen-sink 'anything goes' approach to sound and membership, yet anchored by Scott Hisey and Tim Schwallie. These four tracks have a vaguely jazzy/swing feel to them, but the headscratchers is 'Aimee's Dream' (the earliest cut, from 2000) which exists in its own singularity entirely. This has a bizarrely sung female vocal line over a hypnotic string part (a harp!), but it sounds more like the outtake of a video made for some workplace seminar than any sort of identifiable art-rock tradition. It's mesmerising and unsettling, yet somehow still feels logical with the other three tracks. Two of them involve Clayton Gunnells, formerly of Funkadelic circa America Eats Its Young, which makes this an odd crossover with What The...? label head C. Spencer Yeh, who appears on 'Put the Rascal in the Pudding', contributing some of his distinct violin playing circa the era (2003). The horn is in Gordy Horn, not that explicitly in terms of there being actual horns (though there is sax and trumpet) but just feeling like this is from the free jazz lineage. But this reminds me more of parts of Smegma's Glamour Girl 1941 than anything from ESP-disk; it's an outsider aesthetic, for sure, as well as the sense that anything could be possible. One-sided LPs are sometimes frustrating; these four tracks fill out a side nicely, but why not more? Given that Gordy Horn has been active forever, one thinks there could have been more selected, though maybe economical concerns limited this to one-side. Their released discography is pretty sparse besides this and a tape set, on Yeh's other label Dronedisco, suggesting that maybe they were recorded less than one expected. In nearby Louisville there's a band called Sapat that I think is rather similar - a long-running institution, anchored by a few key members, that have had oodles of weirdos and freaks passing in and out of, and rarely recorded (or rather, those recordings rarely massaged into actual releases). Not sure if the Horn is still active these days but I would love to hear more.

23 February 2016

GOL, Ana-Maria Avram, Iancu Dumitrescu And Members Of Ansamblul Hyperion - 'Musique Directe' (Planam)

GOL are a French-based quartet of electro-acoustic improvisers who take their soundmap from Musica Elettronica Viva and others which have followed in their wake. It's a spacious sound, and occasionally gets quite extreme in terms of echo/effects/processing, but there's a group feel throughout that doesn't really change when the guests join in. The opening cut is just GOL alone, and while their name suggests football fandom, this is more like water skiïng, cutting against waves of roomspace with tensely attenuated electronics. Avram and Dumitrescu join for the second track and it's a much murkier affair, with Dumitrescu playing a prepared piano frame which (I assume) fills up all the middle space. There's still a lot of negotiating even when there's nervous energy, like a yapping dog knowing when to pull back and wait for a snack. Occasionally some really what-the-fuck sounds drift in, but then they don't overstay their welcome; it's a trick that GOL plays a few time throughout the record but never to the point of gimmickyness. The last cut on side 1 features Dumitrescu on the cello but this doesn't sound like Yo-Yo Ma or even like a recognisable cello in any form. Actually, there's very few points of recognisable instruments across the whole album, at least in a conventional sense. Sometimes a processed sound has a texture that makes it identifiable as a plucked acoustic string or percussive tap, but it's transformed into a sideways ghost here. Yet this processing is not the point - it's not an overly wet record, just one that has a solid mood. Side two starts with a Dumitrescu composition built around a tape piece from 1985, played by Avram, and accentuated by the group's clatter and sturm. It rather seamlessly blends into the last piece, which is the only one to feature "members of Ansamblul Hyperion", in this case two people both named Teodorescu. It's not like the sound is significantly more full when there are seven people playing on a track instead of four, but this one gets into the higher register a bit more and ends around some ringing space tones that have a subtle pulse beneath them. At first I thought the title of this album was somewhat of a joke, but actually there is something 'direct' here, in the direct cinema sense, as in we're witnessing a group collaboration that is natural and unprocessed. The sounds, sure, have their own electronic processing at times, but the cohesive group dynamic is presented without visible editing or subterfuge. The liner notes contain a graphical score for a piece which is not on this album, maybe a Dadaist joke or just something pretty they wanted to include anyway. It's hard to tell the tone of this - it's not an overly joyous sound, nor is it too-serious or academic. And the basic, plain graphic artwork places this in a zone of total neutrality, allowing one to add their own interpretation at will. Direct music, indeed.

22 February 2016

The Golden Palominos - 'Visions of Excess' (Celluloid)

Were the Golden Palominos a 'supergroup'? Cause they weren't really a group, were they? Just one guy, Anton Fier, and a bunch of famous friends making songs together. But the lineup is quite impressive - it looks more impressive to me now than it did when I bought this for $1 many years ago, no doubt due to the presence of Michael Stipe, cause, see, I was a big R.E.M. fan during my early teenage years. This sounds a lot better now than back then, too, maybe because I've made my peace with big mid-eighties drum production (and Fier, the svengali here, is a drummer after all and there's unnecessary digital programming on about half of this). The song selection is pretty decent too; the highlight of the whole record is the cover of 'Animal Speaks' by 15-60-75 (y'know -- the Numbers Band!) which is the best Numbers song anyway, and gets a pretty good treatment with a snarling John Lydon. The core band (Fier, Bill Laswell and Jody Harris) is only accentuated with organist Bernie Worrell here, and they somehow bring a manic pulsing punk feel to the song, stripping out its more R&B elements. The songs on Visions of Excess are grouped by singer, weirdly - all three of the Stipe tunes are put in front, maybe to try to capitalise on his marketability. 'Omaha', the Moby Grape cover, is even catchier than the original, and has Henry Kaiser playing this searing drone guitar throughout the whole thing, which sometimes loops into a weird reverse delay. It's such a great song, and the Palominos know that just because they have serious avant-garde cred they don't need to deconstruct every song. The original tunes are pretty solid; the two of them which are Stipe-sung are driving mid-tempo songs, the kind of songs I always imagined when I hear the term 'modern rock'; 'Clustering Train' sounds a little bit like 'King of Birds' from R.E.M.'s Document, though this pre-dates it. Jack Bruce sings on the rather long 'Silver Bullet' but it's probably the weakest track on the album. Syd Straw takes over for two tracks (and does backing vocals on others); 'Buenos Aires', which features Carla Bley on the organ, is really great - Straw's Southern twang breathes life into the song, which keeps rising and falling organically. Fier's drumming is really overpowering throughout this record - partly it's the sound of the times, but probably more because he's the leader of the band and the drummer so he's gonna mix himself up. I can't help but wonder what 'Buenos Aires' would sound like with a more loose, folksy feel. 'Only One Party' closes it out, a Beefheartian dirge with Arto Lindsay yelping and the guitar recorded so it sounds kinda lo-fi, or at least distant. It's a pretty cool track actually, though it somehow feels incongruous with the rest of the album, even though it's already a pretty divergent affair. And that's it for the Golden Palominos though if I ever resurrect the 7" blog, I also have the 7" of 'Omaha'. No grand conclusions to draw here. I wonder what their other albums are like? The first one is maybe worth checking out as Fred Frith is on it. But then again, some of these guest musicians make such minor contributions that they might as well have been session people; does Chris Stamey's keyboards on 'Omaha' really sound distinctly like Chris Stamey playing? Is he even known as a keyboard player? But I'm quibbling; this ain't a bad record, and one that is simultaneously a product of it's time and also doesn't really sound like anything else.

Gong - 'Flying Teapot: Radio Gnome Invisible Part 1' (Charly)

I'm a bad Gong fan, because I don't own anything beyond this first part of the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, nor could I really tell you what it's all about, even though the story is written out, by hand, in the gatefold sleeve. But who's gonna take the time to read this? Instead you can drift off on the psychedelic voyage presented by Mr. Allen and friends, and listen to his voice, focusing on the lyrics when you want to and letting the guitars, flutes and echoing resonance take you to new dimensions of sound and spirit. This is a pretty solid album though, significantly more progventurous than Camembert, though at the expensive of, well, cohesion. We have two titular tracks here, 'Radio Gnome Invisible' which opens things up as a hard introduction to the Gnomish concept; then, the 12:30 of 'Flying Teapot'. Most of side one is taken up by this second cut, which shifts from movement to movement in an epic manner yet stays nimble - it feels almost like it doesn't repeat or go back into themes, but maybe it's because I feel my brain get baked just by listening. I like the diversity here, and we have long instrumental runs that take this record just a small step closer to Genesis territory than before - this isn't totally insane NWW-list Futura-prog at all, but feels druggier because of the cultural associations around this kind of music. Maybe it's the chord changes, or the modalities, or the saxophones and guitars interacting in a certain way, but it definitely feels like prog-rock, though Daevid Allen's singing brings things back to la-la land. There are slow, spacious passages with tape loops and wind instruments making abstract soundscapes, but then also lively and exuberant rock jams. If anything, it's a treasure map being laid out that has an irrepressible personality, yet fits well within the context of early 70s prog-space rock. Hawkwind are a good comparison perhaps, but Gong is goofier and therefore they've always been more to my tastes. Side two handily shifts between sounds - 'The Pot Head Pixies' has the same hooky/manic energy as Camembert's 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space'; 'Zero The Hero and the Witch's Spell' moves between exploratory noodling over a light jazz-rock base to a thick, slow space-dirge in just a matter of minutes. 'Witch's Spell/I Am Your Pussy' ends things with Gilli Smyth intoning about modern Wiccan rituals, or something - by this point you can practically smell the smoke wafting in from .... somewhere? Gatefold cover so you can roll your joints in it, of course. I don't have parts two or three so I guess we'll never know what happens to this invisible gnome, but I guess he probably starts getting really into jazz fusion.

20 February 2016

Gong - 'Camembert Electrique' (Virgin)

Gong is one of those bands that you can imagine was more fun to be in than to listen to, but that's not true in the case of Camembert Electrique; their most popular album, I think, or at least the one that I listen to the most. This is the fun side of progressive rock, but it's not really that proggy - the songs are relatively short, mostly built around pop ditties written by Daevid Allen, and while we get some tape manipulations and sax solos and crazy druggie vocals, it's nothing like Yes or Crimson - but rather, a tight rock band with some odd flavours. This was recorded in France, as the title indicates, and you'd think this would bring a more continental atmosphere to these Canterbury boys, but I don't know; I don't think this sounds much like French or Italian prog of the time, and Allen is Australian anyway so it's not like the British-base of Gong meant they normally sound like Tenpole Tudor. Allen's exuberance carries through, whether it's chanting 'O mother / let's do it again', the elegance of 'And You Tried So Hard',  or the irrepressible glee of 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space'. And the band is pretty versatile - a rather tight-knit unit at the point, at least compared to the big messy groups I always think of as characterising later (and Pierre Morlein's) Gong. On 'You Can't Kill Me'  and 'Dynamite' they sound quite pointed, and almost severe - the goofiness is buried, or at least balanced by a harder psych edge, kinda like, I dunno -- Jane's Addiction? But then they also can slip into moments of sweet, sweet melody, such as the chorus of 'And You Tried So Hard', a song which feels like it's changing rock sub-genres with each verse. The album is structured around four sub-30 second experimental tape pieces, appearing at the beginning and end of each side (locked grooves at the end of course, and clumsy ones at that); the 'songs' of 1 finish with two medleys, with the beautiful 'I Am Your Fantasy' (led by the gorgeous, lush vocals of Gilli Smyth) being the standout track, possibly of the whole record. The best moments of swirling space rock use echo effects over a Czukay-like bassline; 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space' runs away with this concept, building up a creeping sense of malevolence until the hook/vocals come in to save the day. And it's got the obligatory drug reference, lackadaisical approach, and noodly sax solo, to make it a truely iconic track. You know, at their worst, Gong could be seen as the proto-Phish; not that Phish are all that bad (I got sucked into a wormhole watching them cover the VU's Loaded on YouTube one night, and it was all right!). But now, they already feel like such a relic, even though this type of goofy druggy prog-pop has never died, but merely evolved.

19 February 2016

Godspeed You Black Emperor! ‎– 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' (Constellation)

I love the unofficial abbreviation "Yr." for 'your" - thank Sonic Youth for that one - but according to the often-fallible discogs, the vinyl release of this spells out the word "Your" while the various CD issues use the "Yr.". The gatefold sleeve breaks down the movements of each side-long piece, in a very loose graphical score, so you can view this as a 19 track album if you want. I like the side-long approach; I personally think of my own records (the few that I have made) in those terms, one side at a time, as standalone pieces. 'Storm' is the first of the four; it begins with a 'classic' GYBE! sound, with a militaristic drumbeat behind a ringing mishmash of harmonies, like if Vibracathedral Orchestra met Bedhead or something. When cranked up loud (and my neighbours must really be enjoying the GYBE! phase of my record accumulation) you can hear all of the violins pushing against each other in the upper mids, making this feel like the sound of internal combustion. The overall 'Storm', being another twenty minutes of music in four parts, really feels like it ends after it's second movement, 'Gathering Storm'; then we get some field recordings of airport announcements and the lush 'Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way' which takes out the side with deep, ringing low piano chords, practically Well-Tuned in how they create spacious toneclouds. 'Static' is the name of side two and it opens with rotating electro-acoustic drones, before some neo-romantic violin takes over ('Atomic Clock') and here's an evangelical preacher overdubbed, in what's becoming a bit of a Godspeed You Black Emperor! cliché by this point. And you know the rest - guitars slowly noodle into place, the strings grow out of the ambience and take on a life of their own until the motion has gradually become more steady, until it's oceanic. But this doesn't crash into a epic riff-jam - instead 'World Police and Friendly Fire' takes centre stage, where plucked cello notes build a tense momentum. It's a good segue and throughout the rest of the side, this develops around that theme, with instruments coming and going, dense drones behind the melody, teasing us that it's not going to turn into a confident rock jam. But it does - and it's somewhat diminishing, a bunch of musicians playing in a groove, though more composed than a jam. A few of them are keeping a steady crashing drone going, some are focusing on the melodic riff, and the bass/drums hold things tight; it's post-Slint, post-rock as we called it back then, and it's only the buildup and release, buildup and release that keep it from becoming boring (even though we know where it's going all along). But it's not the end - there's an outro, a thick ambient drone that could be smack off the first Labradford album, with the title 'The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now'. And however you may feel about their ascendant indie rock parts, these electroacoustic bits take familiar sonography (bowed cymbals, oscillating drone strings, endlessly echoing roomspace) and somehow create something unique. At this halfway point I'll try to articulate my feelings about GYBE! circa the release of this record, because they seemed unstoppable, yet somehow sort of turned into furniture. All my college buddies were in awe of what they were doing, partially because it has all the art gestures (scrawled song titles, cryptic language, and the good sense to sit back and let the music tell the story) and partially because it's always impressive where this many people get together to make music without some major financial backing behind them. But I was starting to get a bit tired of it; for as enjoyable as this double LP is to listen to now, fifteen and one-half years later, I remember feeling rather disappointed by it all. Apart from the fourth side, it all felt repetitive. So I gave up on this band - I didn't listen to their followup, and when I heard they re-formed (or at least put out their first record in ten years) awhile back I wasn't really interested. I'm a fickle beast, or I was at age 20, but I did see them one last time, at a University-funded concert that worked for a band with mid-sized popularity: pretty good sound, films, and all were on display. They played the hits from Slow Riot  and I think some stuff from this album and probably a whole lot of improvisation - to be honest, the Morricone parts all sound pretty much the same after awhile so I don't really remember. But at some moment it really hit me - maybe when they played 'Moya' or maybe they even played the immortal 'BBF3' live - my memory is really hazy -- and I suddenly realised how fucking amazing and great this band really was. I mean, I was already a fan, a rabid one at first, then a subdued one (no doubt due to them no longer being my 'secret' and their rise in popularity, cause that's the 19 year old mentality), but I left that concert with a deep, deep appreciation. It was an appreciation that wasn't so much about their music, but one that extended someone to an overall idea of ideology. Because I realised, during this horrible time where George W. Bush had just stolen an election and global capitalism was running rampant (and this was pre-9/11 of course) that what Godspeed You Black Emperor! were doing was PUNK ROCK - though of course it didn't sound like the Germs or Crass or Naked Raygun even but rather it was a truly progressive idea of what 'punk' could be; what it could mean, if you want to care about such stupid ideologies. And I did, at least then, and was constantly looking for a way to reconcile that concept with something more progressive. So yeah, if I wanna dismiss them I'll just say they're soundtrack music but the truth is, these Nucks seemed committed to a vision, and I don't know anything about them (they stay pretty anonymous at least across these records) but at that moment, watching these ravaged grainy films that were so bleak and hopeless and full of rage and beauty at the same time - it all clicked with me. So yeah, back to the record - side three is called 'Sleep' and it starts off, well, sleepy (despite more spoken overlays). But the middle segment, 'Monheim', is more of the same yet somehow brighter - the drumming takes on a frantic, almost jazzy cadence, and a drone of higher pitch eventually takes over, the rest of the band fades out, and it turns into this repetitive texture with subtle xylophone tinkles before coming into another rock bit - the 'bringing it all back home' feel, not in the Dylan sense, but more like some kinda of journey. And then: the fourth side, one in which I remember a friend, one of the same friend with whom I drove two hours one night to see them on the Slow Riot tour, referred to as "just a bunch of noise" -- but this quarter of the record, the semi-titular 'Antennas to Heaven', is definitely a departure. It opens with some singing and strumming, and then moves through seven different segments that are far more textural and less concerned with making cohesive melodic riffs than anything to-date. There is an explosive, rocking musical passage in the middle with a bunch of slide guitar and a Hawaiian feel, but it's actually overshadowed by how the rest of the piece is some more loose and episodic than anything they've done before. I know I ranted and raved in the last post about how 'BBF3' is their masterpiece, and it really is, but this is probably my second favourite side of theirs. The Slow Riot EP really stands out against these other two records because those two compositions are tight, and this and the first album are collages formed into side-long compositions, for the most part. And it's a lot of music - listening to Lift Your Skinny Fists knocks out most of an evening, or at least it feels that way. So I'm content having stopped here; I'm left with three records that still feel special to me, even if I used up their inspiration-charges a long time ago. It might even be a nostalgia trip now, for the most part, but it's a sufficiently  soundtracked trip indeed.

16 February 2016

Godspeed You Black Emperor! ‎– 'Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada E.P.' (Constellation)

And here's where things started to get huge. Not just huge in sound, though it's very much that, but huge in terms of cultural impact. Of course, a large cultural impact in my world circa 1999 is a far cry from an actual cultural impact, like, for example, popular culture. Not that this was underground; Godspeed You Black Emperor! exploded at the right time - when records still mattered, things weren't totally digital, and enough of a groupthink existed to crown them as the new gods of the nearly-underground. I loved the first album and knew they were poised for a breakout; the moment I heard 'Moya', the 45rpm first side of this, I knew it had come. Everything that was great about F#A#∞ is present here! By this I mean the liberal use of violins and cellos, a brilliant application of field recordings and tape manipulations, a theme of dystopian decay, and a strong sense of landscape and sweeping romanticism. Everything that was weak about F#A#∞ has been fixed! While the pieces still have movements, they are not a lazy collage. While there's again a strongly dominant spoken voice, it's integrated into the music as an instrument rather than layered on top, so the band is dialoguing with these ideas. And there's two compositions, one of which tightens the soundscape vibe into an epic cinematic indie rock build, and the other which avoids the easy crescendos in favour of a horizontal composition. 'Moya' is built around one hell of a RIFF - though it takes its time to get there, instead opening with a lush, thick ambience that couldn't be done without these neoclassical instruments. It skates on the edge of eternity, not that long (this is 45rpm after all) but enough to build a pulse inside the listener as well as out of the speakers. And when that riff comes - a rising, anthemic crescendo that is supported by a thunderous, deep bass guitar and the string section filling out the midrange - it's unforgettable. Catchy and iconic, it's been etched into my brain ever since, and seeing it live the two times I did was breathtaking. It's the most 'accessible' track GYBE! ever made, though I write that having heard none of the recent albums after the one after this EP. Anyway. It's amazing, but then after a belt-change back to 33, the B-side, 'BBF3', takes things even further. The centrepiece of this is a recording of a clearly deranged man, an extremist for sure, ranting and raving about freedom and liberty and genreal libertarian insanity. It's impossible to hear this right now, February 2016, and not think about Donald Trump - the tonality of his voice is eerily similar and there's a phrase that is a chilling echo of Trump's line about Mexicans all being rapists 'and some of them,  I assume, are good people'. But it's not just this slightly humorous, mostly disturbing vocalisation that makes the track; it's the way the band creates an epic dialogue with it. It rises and falls like waves, resisting the impulse to explode into a distortion-laden wall of sound, and also keep the harmonic movement rather restrained. 'BBF3' feels like it's pulling itself apart in every direction, it's tonality echoing the chaos inherent in the narrator's worldview. For a band that uses apocalyptic imagery (and are no strangers to religious appropriation when possible -- see the cover art, which whatever it might say, uses the religiously-charged Hebrew alphabet) -- this is the thunderous summation of chaos and dystopia, an internalised fear and trembling that Mr. Finnegan expresses and represses. This is no longer mere soundtrack/soundscape music, no longer merely a darker, punker Morricone - this is a band who has managed to synthesise a vision, and made one side-long work of perfection. I often think of this as following the same formula as Sun City Girls' 'Napoleon and Josephine', which is also amazing and probably my favourite SCG song -- but it's also a different beast and a hell of a lot more breathtaking. Even after I had my backlash to them (which I'll describe in my next review) I would sometimes go back to 'BBF3', which is a work of perfection that is dark, unsettling, and beautiful - and yet addictive. And it lives forever on this slab of wax, one of those tracks that makes me feel justified in owning physical media still. Sure you can listen to all 18 glorious minutes on YouTube but it's not the same; this is a total package, putting the 'art' in 'art-rock' and I don't just mean the lavish packaging. It's a track that remains inspirational to me, to this day - a track to encourage me to attempt to scoop up the mess of data flowing through my brain, blood and heart at all times and regurgitate back something that someone, somewhere, might be able to parse with one iota of recognition for some sort of harmony with their own cracked/skewed impulses. God bless, Godspeed.

15 February 2016

Godspeed You Black Emperor! ‎– 'F♯ A♯ ∞' (Constellation)

I heard about this band from the Internet; the exalted droneon list, the archives of which I still dream of (and will continue to mention on here until someone unearths them). Some rumours were coming in about this really wild large ensemble band from Montreal who were doing massive soundscapes with a full string section and they had this crazy name and projected films while they played. I was intrigued and I saw them! It was on my first-ever trip to New York City, to catch a cool show at the Cooler headlined by Tower Recordings (who I don't think we even stayed to see), Sandy Bull (who was fucking great and I suspect I already told this story back when I covered his record), Roy Montgomery (the reason we went), and then the opening band, Godspeed You Black Emperor!. What a fucking delight; they were crammed onto a small stage, falling off it (probably a cellist or someone had to be on the floor) and they made this slowly crawling drone which built into a real racket and they really played, you know - really poured their hearts into it, all melodramatic and epic and swinging for the fences and whatever. My mind was blown. I bought this LP, an ornately packaged limited pressing on the fledgling Constellation label (later reissued on CD by Kranky with an extra 20 minutes, and you know I have that too so if we ever make it to the CDs again I can listen to it again) and it had all these neat photos and cryptic Xeroxes and drawing and artwork inside and a crushed penny! (crushed by a train, supposedly, so I can't tell if it's a Canadian or American penny and it's so cool anyway that I overlooked the fact Wimp Factor 14 already did that on a 7" years before) and the music, oh the music, well it's everything my little heart could have dreamed of. I was 17 years old. And I played the fuck out of this record, all the time, until the CD came out, but then I sorta played the record still cause the CD mixed things up and it wasn't quite the same - and looking now, while brushing dust off it, I can see that I scratched the hell of of it - it's really taken a beating over the years, even though I haven't probably played this at all in the past ten.We got song titles on the CD ('The Dead Flag Blues') but I just knew this as 'nervous, sad, poor' cause that's what scrawled into the runout groove, and side B as 'bleak, uncertain, beautiful'. This has Ennio Morricone draped all over it, but then this voice that sounds like Sam Elliott starts talking about his wallet being full of blood, and it's really cinematic, and then the second piece starts which is just a bunch of shimmery drone strings - electric guitars which sound like glass, an echo into a sunset, and some sliding tonalities. For as much as I now think about this band as being all about films and violins, there's so much guitar and bass that you could really mistake them for a rock band, and it's so soundtracky that it's nice to cover this right after Goblin, though it's all subdued and mellow, just making a groove. When the drums come in about halfway through side 1, all ride cymbal gallops, it sounds what I always imagined Calexico to sound like (but I've never listened to Calexico). This blew my mind almost twenty years ago and now it sounds good, but rather incomplete - it just rolls along, never quite fulfilling the promise of the spoken intro which is all mysterious and malevolent - it turns into another semi-ambient, delay-pedal driven haze, which is not unlike those interstitial segments on early Deerhunter records, and then a sorta jaunty, carnivalesque coda (where some jingling bells counterpoint a chord progression and a passionate violin lick). It's a good bummer trip all around though maybe it just coasts a bit on mood. Things stop, a voice says "I don't know what to do", someone fucks around on a banjo for a bit, and then the side is over. And then the flip; it opens with bagpipes! More voices, an organ drone, and the heretofore unheard-of-at-least-in-my-1997-record collection instrument of bagpipes (cause I didn't yet have that great Pierre Bensusan album 2 - check the archives!). It's all little sound vignettes here - some more soundtracky Morricone stuff, then a little interlude of processed vocals which could be right off an 80s 4AD record, and then another clean channel guitar post-rock piece. This melody builds and builds, the strings kick in, the drummer starts rocking out, and eventually it's a wall of sound that keeps crescendoing and crescendoing. It ends with a locked groove, cause, F sharp A sharp INFINITY, dig? You know, around the same time as this, Mogwai were doing these wall of sound instrumental pieces that all the kids were going wild about, but I never got much from them - to me, their music was always too cold, too distant. GYBE! were all about their emotions, wearing their wet romantic visions on their sleeves even if (let's be honest) they're somewhat entry-level art-school moves. I'm not knocking this band at all - this is as lush and inviting to listen to now as it was in 1997, and I'm regretting how much I kinda turned on them (more about that later) - but hindsight shows me now that even as sophisticated as this sounded to my teenage ears (because a string section = instant sophistication, dig? as well as the abstractions of instrumental music and cryptic packaging), the music, at least on this record, is really a series of short sketches (probably mostly improvisational) woven cryptically into something which appears superficially greater as opposed to the grand vision I thought they had. And the aesthetic feels somewhat in line with this perception I have of the Montreal avant-garde (I have never been there, of course) - not necessarily that different from, say, the first Lewis Furey record or even Leonard Cohen in his most hedonistic days. That's not to discount anything about this band - they are/were great (they are still around!) but their true greatness was really yet to come and I realised it later.

Goblin - 'Suspiria' (Attic)

Here's a Canadian pressing of an extremely popular soundtrack from a film that I saw back in college, a cult classic I guess, though I thought it was pretty silly. What I liked about the film - essentially all I can remember - is the weird shit it did with spatial relationships. The house where the heroine is trapped (or whatever the hell the plot was) felt unnavigable, like the inside was bigger than the outside, and Argento tossed aside film conventions to make this sense of unease. It's kinda like the good half of that Mark Z. Danielewsky novel House of Leaves, and not the boring James Dean part. Goblin are loved by horror film fans more than I think by Italian progheads, though they aren't disrespected by any means. I'm much closer to an Italian proghead and always found the soundtrack basis of their work a little bit off-putting, but that's just a personal problem, cause you'll see lots of soundtracks here. Listening now to Suspiria, I really like the way that certain repetitive strings oscillate on tracks like 'Witch'; it cuts through the haunting synths which really root this a lot closer to whatever genre Einsterzende Neubauten are (is that 'industrial'?) or early Nurse with Wound than to Area. I mean, this is some good music! Some really dark and sketchy moods, but it's aggressive, not content to just sit back and be creepy. Suspiria the soundtrack is a soundtrack of active terror, which even underneath the most uncomfortable moments still maintains a creeping unease, so you never have a respite. There's some funky synth-lines on 'Markos' that takes things more towards synth-pop, though it stays instrumental and never resolves things - the percussion is flamboyant and the lead instrument in many ways. 'Blind Concert' is the typical prog-rock sounding track, an arena-esque instrumental with long ripping guitar solos and a more conventional feel; I'm sure it appears in the film, but this is undeniably a rock song and less soundtracky. It's OK but I couldn't hear anything in one listen to make Goblin stand out from other prog bands of the era; if anything, it's a bit indistinct especially given how aggressively idiosyncratic the rest of the record is. Closer 'Death Waltz' is a bit of old timey music, surely used in the film for a creepy effect but here serving as a carnivalesque closer. They put out a ton of records in their career and I'm sure there are Goblin completists out there, but Suspiria is all I need, just as it's the only Dario Argento film I've ever bothered to see. Sometimes you know your limits and while this is a fine record, I'm cool to stop here.

Globe Unity - 'Improvisations' (Japo)

I made a typo on the first draft of this and actually called the band "Glove Unity", which is a nice concept, indeed. This is a good test of the new turntable - so far I've noticed that jazz sounds far better than rock, as thicker mixes struggle a bit for clarity, but the turntable (which I got secondhand) has a pretty old cartridge/stylus on it, which I really should replace. I remembered this being nothing more than a giant ball of noise, but I'm confusing it with another Globe Unity album I have on CD. This has its moments of ball-like fury, as anything with 15 musicians playing at once will, but it's actually a lot more delicate and spacious than I remembered. Side one starts off very slowly, with everyone feeling each other out. The instrumentation is cryptically referred to with two-letter abbreviations and I think it's clear to me (ss = soprano sax, fl = flugelhorn --  or is it flute?, etc.) but it's not always clear who is what. For example, both Peter Brötzmann and Michael Pilz are credited to bass clarinet, though it's the third of three instruments for Brötzmann, so you're left to guess who is what. At the beginning there's a nice soft little lick played on that instrument, left to echo into the beautiful air-space that this vinyl pressing really clearly captures, and I'm guessing it's Pilz because it doesn't sound like a rocket launcher firing. But who knows? There's two of just about everything - well, not exactly - but only one drummer here, Paul Lovens, and he's content to sit back for long passages, just adding some cymbals or other percussion. And Alex von Schlippenbach, the leader of the whole thing is absent for long stretches. It's not until the end of side 1, when this group finally explodes in the manner I spent the whole side waiting for, that his piano really starts chopping through everything. The group interplay is fantastic, and even at its thickest, there is a remarkable balance between the different forces. It's at times tentative, and at times confrontational, but you don't feel like these musicians are battling in a way to establish dominance. I love European free jazz, because it seems to avoid any ego driven basis of much American soloing and focus on a group mentality; plus, later Dutch efforts start to reincorporate traditional swing elements and melody in a way that's really remarkable. There's no Dixieland flavours here, but as any record with both Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, a hell of a lot of boundary pushing. The end of the record is all strings, where the cello by Tristan Honsinger interplays with the bassists (Buschi Niebergall and the great unsung Peter Kowald, who I think is the Robert Horry of Euro free jazz); something is done to the bass, maybe the way its recorded, that makes it sound like some space age synth affect. I'm not sure if they actually used any effects or if it's just an accident of studio sonorities (or dust on my stylus??) but it feels like a spiritual connection to out-there European NWW list music like Heldon or Mahogany Brain, if only for a minute. Though I've pointed out the few musicians I can clearly identify (due to their instrumentation being unique), this isn't really a showcase for any one player, but rather one of the few examples of 15 people coming together to make something great together. I don't know if freely improvised music has moved very far beyond this record (recorded in September, 1977) but that's also not the point - the point is the lineup, for these musicians sound distinctly like these musicians when in this combination. And a joyous sound it is.

14 February 2016

Gleaming Spires - 'Walk on Well Lighted Streets' (PVC/Posh Boy)

I was about to start writing about what a grammatical mess the title is, but then I flipped over the lyrics sheet and found the explanation - it's a photo of an advertisement on a park bench in Korea, where the English has been misapplied. That oughta give you some idea of the level of sophistication of the Gleaming Spires, returning with their second album from 1983. It's not a deviation from the sound of the first one, though they've expanded from a duo into a real 'band' here. The MTV 80s are in full-effect now, and while I doubt the Spires every got any airtime, I bet they were trying. The humour has been dialed down somewhat, and the band photo on the back sleeve is totally new wave fresh. There's still a wry wink in some of the songwriting - 'Big Surprise', the catchiest tune, is actually about how someone fears they will bring darkness and misery to another person, though you wouldn't tell this from the way it's being sung. There's a lot of sadness, or at least pessimism, throughout -- 'At Together' is cynical and 'Mining' is drenched in self-doubt. The title track again seems to be about danger and has a hint of sexual violence, though compared to the last album's 'How To Get Girls Through Hypnotism' I suppose I should be thankful the Spires are content with just an implication. While everything is a bit brighter and better produced, there's less of that homemade white pop weirdo vibe -- they still mostly sound like Sparks, but that first album also sounded a bit like Shoes, and that 'influence' (if it actually was one) is absent here. 'Fun Type' could almost be a punk song, or maybe just a more aggressive version of Huey Lewis and the News. They had a third album, 1985's Welcoming the New Ice Age, and I'm genuinely unsure if I should buy a copy off discogs for 4€, or get rid of these two - I'd rather be a Gleaming Spires completist or not own anything by them, but this in-between is just unacceptable. I get pretty bored by the end of this record, which despite it's cool cover (which looks like this should be on Ralph Records) fails to take enough chances to really stand out for me; so most likely this gets jettisoned during the next purge.

Gleaming Spires - 'Songs of the Spires' (Posh Boy)

This is why I love the alphabetical approach - because we can go from Philip Glass to this, back-to-back. I bought this at a charity shop years ago solely because of the cover - it screamed out that this was a self-released experiment, possibly even a school project. But Posh Boy isn't a vanity label - they also released stuff by Red Cross and TSOL, and the Spires were actually the backing band of an early 80s Sparks lineup. You can hear that clearly on the record itself - these are clever pop songs in the mode of early 80s Sparks, with lots of synths and sequenced beats, and a very white male (and, I hope, ironic) viewpoint. Plus, both Maels wrote the liner notes on the back, silly screeds that don't indicate they actually listened to the record - the ol' backhanded compliment. The Gleaming Spires are remembered for their one hit song, 'Are You Ready For the Sex Girls?', track two here, which I must admit is a stomper. It's just on that border of novelty music, a wave I often enjoy surfing on. I'm sure it's being played right now in a strip club somewhere, as it will at strip clubs everywhere until the end of time - hopefully these guys had their publishing rights sorted out properly and they are still living comfortable on royalties. Whatever you may think of this song, 'they are women without any faults' is a line so brilliant it could have been penned by Ron and/or Russell themselves; the Spires clearly apprenticed well. The other cuts are hit and miss strong, and none too far from the Sparks formula. 'When Love Goes Under Glass' has a double tracked guitar line to lift the war imagery of the lyrics to a feel-good place; 'How To Get Girls Through Hypnotism' is amazingly predatory and it's hard to even sense the level of irony at play. Lines about 'make them do what you want' are stomach-churning, but then the verses suggest this is written from the perspective of a guy with serious fears and issues; regardless of its political correctness, it's just not a very good song, with the bridge, verse and chorus sounding like they came from three different places. The last two cuts are by far the best - the bouncing, peppery 'Talking in the Dark' and the maudlin, gorgeous 'Big Hotels'. A lush, romantic vision sung over synth string pads with a Euro-gazing perspective, it's my favourite song on the album and pretty much the reason I keep it.This electro-pop sound is back in style now and I can't help but wonder if a track like 'Blood Beat (Watch Your)' would be popular today. The darker tunes could almost be written by Tuxedomoon, if you squint, and that cover art is fucking amazing.

13 February 2016

Philip Glass - 'Glassworks' (CBS)

I screwed up the chronology - this came before both soundtracks so now I either tackle it out of order, or I alter Blogspot's published-at time to make it look like I hit it before Koyaanisqatsi. The truth is, I've just put this on after listening to Powaqqatsi and it's a hell of a lot less interesting, though maybe more singular as what I tend to think of Philip Glass's music as sounding like. 'Floe' and 'Rubric' are two pieces that sound almost cliché at this point, though I'm trying to put myself in the late 70s or early 80s when this was at the forefront of "new music" (a term I loathe). Those Michael Nyman soundtracks which we'll eventually get to are really similar, with the lush, romantic strings pulsing back and forth and the movement not as minimal as you think, but more romantic. 'Facades' is downright gentle, rolling along like a baby breathing, and with even some soloing, or at least with instruments taking the lead. It's a small collection of musicians here - Jack Kripl on winds, two French Horns, and Glass himself on the synthesiser.  I'm kinda lukewarm on Glassworks as a whole; I think the recording leaves a bit to be desired, sounding like a pretty straight modern classical studio session. Maybe the LP is dirty or something, but after just feeling those two Godfrey Reggio soundtracks exploding from my speakers, full of space and breath, this feels a bit claustrophobic and dead. The music isn't particularly icy - the sonorities are not really breaking away from a romantic/classic tradition - but it just feels a bit too tight. Maybe it's in the performances - you won't typically think of Philip Glass's music as a type which can really benefit from interpretation, but the dynamic shifts here, even say when the piano pulls back and slowly crescendos again, feel a bit robotic. The opening cut is actually probably my favourite one, a solo piano prelude composed by Glass but played by Michael Riesman. It doesn't get caught in its own motion, instead allowing some tonalities to slowly develop; sure, there's repetition, but it's not monotonous. And it returns, in the 'Finale', with the other musicians accompanying it, though it doesn't breathe so much with the bed of sound under it this time. The feeling is that we've taken some journey, but I'm not really sure what we learned during it. The back cover of my copy has the ink smearing slightly up from the letters, subtle enough you would almost think it's by design except there's no way it is. The music maybe reflects this rigidity - I wish there was just a little more smearing between the notes, in a way that some other minimalists (Terry Riley, for sure) built into their compositions.

Philip Glass - 'Powaqqatsi' (Elektra/Nonesuch)

Whoa, Powaqqatsi is pretty fucking awesome! I didn't remember enjoying this so much as it's a far more upbeat beast than Koyaanisqatsi, as I guess the film probably is too. (I know I saw it too, years ago, and it's more of the same time-lapse stuff meant to indict the Western world's behaviour). This is another record that keeps inspiring me to jack up the volume knob on the ol' Luxman, all the way to 12 O'clock (It's rarely ever past 10, normally) and it's the percussion that makes me keep wanting more and more and more. Powaqqatsi is mostly instrumental until we're about 75% of the way through, though in addition to the instrumentation (again, a mix of synths and instruments that sound like synths), there are some field recordings (possibly from the making of the film) mixed in, and some children's voices that are sort of creepy. Side one's 'Anthem' is split into three parts, intercut with some shorter tracks which take us around the world (as the whole album and film itself manages to do - 'Train to Sao Paulo', 'From Egypt', 'New Cities in Ancient Lands'). But Glass's compositions very delicately walk the line between ethno-musical forgeries and a minimalist composer's vision; you can maybe pick out hints of 'ethnic' melodies in these tracks, but that's pretty much a reach. It all feels united, with pounding drums (the presence of which are the major difference between this and the first soundtrack) and bright brass instruments driving the middle of the soundstage. 'Anthem' is the centrepiece, reminding me of some feeling I've only found in really random bits of music (some Vietnamese pop music, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, and I guess Arnold Dreyblatt as the closest composer influence though there's a feel of a harder-edge Lou Harrison to this music too); it has a pulse, a heartbeat, that is echoed in both the body and the head. See, Dad, minimalism is more than just an intellectual exercise! I suppose the pulsebeat is supposed to echo the relentless assault of modernity on traditional ways of being, or maybe that's just a childish interpretation - either way, it makes this sound so good. The record is well-sequenced (perhaps just matching the film, though the film would be longer than this and from what I remember it's all music throughout); the driving pieces are cut with the more restrained ones, though even 'The Unutterable', the first part of which is probably the record's most mellow point, has an unsyncopated pulse at its centre. More romantic elements enter - the string melody that opens 'Mosque and Temple' is wet and emotional, a million light years from the idea that many people have of Philip Glass as a cold and overly intellectual sound-lord. The 'New Cities' trilogy (which blend into each other seamlessly) also use flutes and some other higher wind instruments over all the synths, making a really accessibly sweet sound mix, but not one that feels manipulative or false. 'CAUGHT!' is the one for the mix tape, a fast-paced escalating maelstrom, just before the vocal-driven ('From Egypt'); but on either side of it, Foday Musa Suso plays guest kora and balafon on two very short tracks named after him, and it feels like a really short interlude that really should have been a lot longer. The track in the middle has an amazing use of a flutter echo/delay behind the Egyptian vocalist; it's one I completely forgot about and easy to overlook after all the dense, driving instrumentation. The only real disappointment is the titular closing track, which feels obligated to chant the title in a deep scary voice just like in Koyaanisqatsi; here, it just feels like an empty gesture, a repetition of an idea that doesn't work so well in this one. But the album, overall, is a zillion times better than I remembered it and maybe I'll even give the film another go.

Philip Glass ‎– 'Koyaanisqatsi' (Antilles)

I've seen the film of which this is the soundtrack, and it's pretty good! A bunch of crazy time-lapse stuff, showing people from all over the world working and living their lives; it's a real artistic vision of late capitalism, for sure. Not entirely unlike those videos Phill Niblock always shows during his performances, of developing nations toiling in fields of rice, etc. -- but maybe the short attention span theatre edition. The music sounds pretty austere though - a bunch of chanting in unknown tongues and thick, layered instrumentation (five trumpets, five French horns, four violas, two tubas, etc.) which makes it actually sound like synth music in a few places. There is a lot of keyboard, being pretty much equally lead instrumentation with the choir (courtesy of the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, none of whom are credited by name -- I guess when you join a choir you take a vow of semi-anonymity, sort of like playing offensive line for the Denver Broncos) and it all just sounds great if you turn it up LOUD. A reviewer's note here: I got a new turntable since the last post, so this is the first record listened to through the superior effort of the Rega Planar 3, and wow! The voices sound fucking intense, especially on 'Vessels' or maybe it's 'Cloudscape' - I wasn't paying attention. Turning up the volume knob makes the recorded human voice sound like I've never heard it before, perhaps the way he's layered them here or something to do with what they are singing. I assume it's the Hopi language that the title comes from, but maybe it's just gibberish, or maybe the Magma language -- who knows? who cares? It's a power that those Alabama Sacred Harp Singers records have, where you just feel an energy coursing through your body and ripping you apart. The sacred harp jams are about Jesus or salvation or something, and this is, I guess, about how the pace of technology-driven modern life is desiccating our souls (again, I'm not fluent in Hopi) so you can choose what's more inspiring. I'm not a Christian in the slightest (hail Eris!) and spend most of my time thinking about the aforementioned desiccation than any sort of Creator, yet I love Gospel music, which at its best, conjured the same shimmery whole-body magic that this does. Fans of that mid-70s Meredith Monk vibe will also find a lot to love here, as Koyaanisqatsi has a dour, medieval feel (despite its openness, or maybe precisely because of it); when the title track is chanted at the beginning and end of this record you know you're somewhere special. This has always been my favourite Philip Glass work, seemingly balanced between his more commercial efforts and the postmodern operatic work such as Einstein on the Beach (though, I remember that pretty fondly, too).

2 February 2016

Giant Sand - 'The Love Songs' (Homestead)

It's exciting to review a test pressing, and a pretty good sounding one too - as far as I know the higher-ups at Homestead gave the thumbs-up to this. Somehow, this test pressing (I wonder how many were pressed) made it to Jerry's record store in Pittsburgh many years ago, accompanied by the 'one-sheet' promo text -  and I grabbed it, not knowing much about Giant Sand except they were supposed to be alt-country (but not the annoying Wilco kind). Between this and all of the subsequent Giant Sand records I've heard, this one is definitely the most 'country' sounding, though I don't know what that says except my own genre biases. It's an electric country record for sure, with lots of biting guitars, keyboard/organ drones, and other flourishes. It's a very well produced record, but somehow after years of casually listening to Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, I've never gelled with them completely. So I've always had this mild appreciation of his work without ever really loving it. A few years ago they made that Giant Giant Sand record called Tucson that was pretty ambitious and pretty great. But this is much earlier, and has some hard-rocking ballads, like the opening cut 'Wearing the Robes of Bible Black'.  The production is really top-notch, and nothing really indicates it's 1988 though I wouldn't know what alt-country is supposed to sound like then except for the Mekons. The drums are bright and crisp, and the arrangements are thick but tasteful. There's some waka-chika gutiar on 'Love Like a Train' which somehow works in the context and doesn't drag it towards a 70s porn sound. Gelb is a songwriter that lets his idiosyncrasies out; his vocals occasionally wail and contort, and he's not afraid to cop a classic pose, though it's always a little off-kilter. 'Almost the Politician's Wife' starts with a gentle acoustic strum and works from the position of a roving eye, never quite content, but not restless either. The album ends with a cover of 'Is That All There Is?', recently resurfacing in pop culture by its inclusion in the final season of Mad Men; here, Gelb is sarcastic, voice breaking into a million different directions. The album concludes by dissolving into a sample of The Honeymooners, which I guess means this is a reflection back on the past and the 60s in particular, though I don't really feel it. Are these actual love songs? They don't jump out as particularly romantic, but maybe that's the point. Giant Sand have always seemed to me like a band whose pleasures lie in subtlety, even if the songs aren't necessarily restrained; I think further time is required (even though I've had this LP for well over 15 years) to truly dig in.

The Germs - '(GI)' (Slash)

I never understood the title of this or why the parentheses/brackets are part of it. This is an iconic record in every possible way - the sound, the artwork, the premature death of the vocalist .... yet it never jumped out at me as revolution-inspiring. I, of course, tend to gravitate towards smart-guy punk like Wire or Alternative TV, at least as a younger man. These days, the fury of the Germs is something I connect with, though maybe in a nostalgic way for some life I never led. The lyrics are of course the best part, but not included here and not always so decipherable, so the Internet is helpful here, though I tend to focus on clunkers like 'Embracing my life / between your thighs' rather than the moments that are way intelligent and poetic. Crash's words deal with (among other things) the role of the self against the emergence of technology, the existence and viscerality of the body, and power relationships between people and systems. Which is not to dismiss the rest of the band - Pat Smear is somehow still an underrated guitar player, and his lines snake and crawl around Crash's delivery, which is what Carducci would write is great rock music (and he's right!).  The Germs are a classic case of a band that remains influential for the wrong reasons, but when you watch their performance in The Decline of Western Civilization the power of this band becomes abundantly clear. The record doesn't downplay it towards new wave or pop production sensibilities like so many other records of the time, which is a credit. And they put the short fast songs on side 1 and leave the slightly longer ones for the second side, which was a pretty good move, I'd say. 'Another day, another crash' is a lyric from 'The Other Newest One', perhaps Darby's titular line, and while the backstage footage in Spheeris's film shows him to be a confused and sad kid, here he sounds the force of pure nihilism come to life. It's heavy without being metal (it's a single guitar band, after all), and the songs are as sophisticated as they can be given the self-imposed boundaries. ''We Must Bleed' is pretty fucking incredible, and leaps out of the speakers with a cutthroat monotony. Songs such as 'Communist Eyes' actually have some pop hooks buried in them - the Germs were punk, not hardcore, at least to these ears, and that's a crucial distinction. And maybe that's what remains so valuable about (GI) thirty-seven years later - the idea of punk is manifested not by his sad death (which, to be honest, is the kind of death that defines clichés) but by the force that he became when put behind a microphone, on stage, and even in the studio. 

1 February 2016

The Gerbils - 'The Battle of Electricity' (Orange Twin)

The Gerbils are pretty much forgotten now, but were pretty much forgotten when they were happening, too, at least outside of their Athens-based scene. They were dismissed as a Neutral Milk Hotel side project, one of the more obscure offshoots of the Elephant 6 thing, which meant they got lumped in with those bands just by their associations. And who can blame us? Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes are half of the Gerbils and also half of Neutral Milk hotel; the other two guys were certainly a big part of the Athens, GA pop scene around the turn of the millenium and the Gerbils managed to record two albums and a handful of 7"s before disappearing completely. And their sound is also pretty similar to their other bands, in that they are built around fuzzy guitar pop with some external instruments (horns, melodicas) as accents. This album is made up of ten songs with untitled interstitial tracks in between, some slow and dirgy and others a bit more spry. Vocalists Spillane and John D'Azzo harmonise in a very classic indie-pop singing style - not too gruff, occasionally reaching for low registers and helping to deliver the lyrics which are slightly dark and cynical ('The Air Up There' lyrically belies the jaunty shuffle of its music; 'Lucky Girl' is likewise more bitter than it's high-pitched, bright indie-pop cadence suggests). 'Snorkel', the title track, and 'Share Again' are a trilogy near the end, without these instrumental passages. The first of them is a slow song about going to the beach that keeps threatening to crash like a wave; for seemingly slight subject matter, it feels huge and monolithic. The interludes aren't filler; there's two in a row on side two, and they are lovely. They not only show some diverse musical influences with this limited palette (there's a pre-rock pop music feel at times, almost Tin Pan Alley, plus some funereal dirges and impressionistic sketches); they also serve to tie the whole thing together and make this feel like a proper band, despite drummer Barnes credited not with a kit but 'snare drum, floor tom, cymbal'. The Gerbils know when to step on their fuzz pedals and amp things up; 'Meteoroid from the Sun Strikes a Dead Weirdo' feels as punk as things ever get in this scene, and 'The White Sky' has some near blast beats behind it's shimmying keyboard licks and fast chord changes. The whole "indie pop" sound has been so maligned over the years, particularly by those who focus on the Calvin Johnson sweater-wearing cuteness that came out of the Pacific Northwest and all of the attendant developmental disorders that went with it. But I have a real soft spot for the bright lights of that movement, some of the 90s most memorable bands, who actually sound a lot more diverse and some, such as Tullycraft, even feel like spiritual descendants of punk. At its best, great indie-pop can convey a wistful sentiment such as  'Not a night goes by that I don't think of you / I watch you in my darkened room / Electricity was invented when I was left like this again' with a feeling of approachability, solidarity, and craft. The Gerbils had this in spades, and while it's hard to truly sonically separate them from that genre, they, like many of the best examples of any scene, stand apart.

Genesis - 'Selling England By the Pound' (Atlantic)

Forgot I Had This Department: Yeah, I have a Genesis record, and of course I like some Genesis, because they are good records that you can find in charity shops for very cheap. But I don't like them that much - even a cursory glance at the A through F's of this gauntlet will show my prog tastes tend to stay away from the bigger names and likewise from medieval and fantasy-leaning lyrics. Genesis were always just right in the middle of it all for me; I greatly prefer them to Yes or ELP or things like that, but don't enjoy them as much as I enjoy King Crimson. This record has some airy-faery stuff (mostly in the opening track, which is called, wonderfully, 'Dancing with the Moonlit Knight' -- and has some nice flutes and bells) but the real reason I have this record, honestly, is the song 'More Fool Me'. It's a cute little throwaway love song at the end of side one, and it's sung by Phil Collins in an affable, genteel croon instead of Gabriel's bombast. I wouldn't profess to know the entire Genesis catalogue or even much beyond this and Foxtrot and the 80s MTV hits, but it's undoubtedly my favourite Genesis song. If I remembered that I owned this record (which I don't, usually, unless an alphabetical blog-revue forces me to confront my accumulation), then surely I would pull it out occasionally just to hear that song. The rest of the vinyl is scarcely played, at least by my stylii. Though now, on a mandatory listen, it's clearly Genesis doing what they did best. There's some searing guitar solos (though they aren't as broken or blistering as, say, Area) and some epic key changes and some Mellotron and a very English feel to it overall.  'The Battle of Epping Forest' is a lengthy narrative about contemporary British unrest, which is an achievement in its own by putting street gangs into the usual medieval epic aspirations of 70s British progressive rock, but the song goes on forever (even to me) and I find it a bit unmemorable overall beyond it's conceit. This is going to go to the sell pile (or the give-away pile) not because I dislike it, but because I have too many records and can't justify keeping this for one song which I could just listen to via YouTube when I get a hankerin' for it.