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21 July 2016

Peter Gutteridge - 'Pure' (540)

And with this, we conclude the Gs. It's an oddball selection for the end of this underrated alphabetical segment, and an odd choice to have gotten a deluxe double-vinyl reissue. Originally released as a cassette on Xpressway way back in '89, the 540 label saw fit to give it a first-time vinyl pressing in 2013. I'm not complaining - Pure is a great collection of sketches, experiments and low-stakes hypnotica - but it feels a bit strange that during this wave of New Zealand greats getting issued in affordable (and more importantly, available) vinyl slices, that this was chosen. While other great material -- some would say 'greater' -- remains impossible to source (I'm thinking about Plagal fucking Grind, y'know). But I'm not trying to diminish Pure, in which the late Mr. Gutteridge steps away from the shadow of the Clean and the Great Unwashed and presents his own musical personality across 21 songs. I never listened to Snapper and I'm not so clear at picking out his own songwriting from the other voices in the Clean, but honestly, Pure offers little in the way of a singer-songwriter approach anyway. The majority of the tracks are instrumental, with thick, pulsing layers of electric guitar, organs, and shimmery keyboards. All the sounds come from the cheapo, Tall Dwarfs-esque approach, but the man extracted a wealth of diversity from the limited gear. The lo-fi recording helps and this feels almost odd to hear on vinyl (though welcome, thank you 540!). 'Planet Phrom' is the closest we get to the jangly feel of the Chills or Clean, as I expected from his background, and features Snapper's Christine Voice (whatta great name, eh?) helping with distant, echo-laden backing vocals. For the most part, the rest of the songs stay away from any twee, light sensation, the next closest being the lark of 'Having Fun', and the furthest away probably being the decidedly un-gentle 'Bomb' (where guest vocalist Bruce Mahalski intones a mostly-spoken vocal line over a casio beat with pulsing keyboards and a few theatrical glissandos). This isn't horror movie music or heavy metal or anything, but it's closer to the dour gloom I usually associate with the Xpressway label than one would expect from a musician of Gutteridge's lineage. Spread out over two LPs, Pure starts to feel like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by the thick instrumentals. If I were to reduce this to an 'X crossed with Y' analogy, I'd probably say it's like a cheap-ass Terry Riley meets Suicide vibe, which sounds pretty great, doesn't it? We're still filtering everything through the Flying Nun sunglasses of course, and maybe 540 was hoping that this would stand as the man's legacy rather than being a supporting player to the Kilgours or Martin Philips. I'm glad for it, and in some way it makes me think of the (equally underrated and obscure?) Jowe Head solo record, Pincer Movement, not so much in how it sounds but how it stands, in relation to the band which he is better known as a member of.

Guru Guru - 'Dance of the Flames' (Atlantic)

Guru Guru, on a wider release (and American major label) get back to business with the crunchy rock-riffage found on side one of the self-titled album. It's not a genre I'm super qualified to critique, but after typing this I realise how 'rockist' this vinyl accumulation is. I've always liked things on the cerebral side, but weirdly as I grow older the gut-punching guitar epics make more and more sense to me. It's like I'm aging in reverse, or maybe the few times I've read Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic sunk in, and I have a real appreciation/understanding of what makes a rock band great (and ignore all the homophobic stuff in there). So yeah, Guru Guru know how to shred and this for the most part resembles the first side of the previous record, not the spacey, sci-fi second. But things start opening up a bit on 'The Girl from Hirschorn', containing a long, long shredding guitar solo before a nice singing part comes in, the pieces slows to a gentle 60's psych vibe, and concludes. It's well-recorded too, sounding like a psychedelic rock record should, and maybe the two sides of Guru Guru find symbiosis here. 'Samba Das Rosas' is the album's other wildcard, being a genre exercise in samba, with the guitarist singing in a falsetto and a nice atmosphere - no one does samba like a bunch of Germans from Heidelberg!  'Rallulli' is the record's most collectively improvised feel, sounding like Dutch free jazz in the beginning before the almighty rhythm comes in, though it stays acoustic (including upright bass) and sneaks around without ever getting settled. On the rare times I listen to Guru Guru this is a record to skip around rather than play straight through - I prefer the previous record's second half for the focused listen and there's about 40 other albums I could investigate were I so inclined. This band still exists! And when one thinks about how a rock band can persevere for almost a half-century without major commercial success, it makes one see a sort of musical purity there, even if that's just a bit of hindsight and conjecture. Sometimes I like to pronounce the word 'guru' as guh-ROO, like if I'm describing some weird yoga instructor in a mocking way; and saying guh-ROO guh-ROO as a band name is almost as funny as saying "zed zed Top". If I were to rank my favourite rock bands Guru Guru are probably somewhere around 286th, or maybe lower, but that's still pretty high if you think about how many rock bands there are.

12 July 2016

Guru Guru (Brain)

For years I thought this was the first Guru Guru record, but the Internet tells me it's actually the fifth! For guys often lumped in with Kraut heavyweights, you wouldn't think it listening to side one, which is mostly balls-out biker rock. Any intellectual (or at least, progressive) tendencies present in Guru Guru are buried behind the riffs, operating here in power trio mode, and even doing an Eddie Cochran cover as well. I'm not so equipped to rate such things - at parts I feel like I could be listening to Steppenwolf - but when flipped over, this record becomes a winner. That's due to 'Der Elektrolurch', a snaking, funky exploration which starts around some jammy percussion before experimenting with heavily processed guitars and a scary sci-fi voice (though I think most voices sound scary in German). It's almost unrecognisable against the riffage on side one, and it's kosmiche musik at its best - progressive, dark, and invigorating. You could probably argue that it's a bit underwritten, sounding more like a few sketches put in linear fashion than an actual 'song', but that's OK. Closer 'The Story of Life' continues the atmosphere for 12 and a half minutes, and it takes it's time. It's a slow, meandering tune with a plodding bassline, built around the repeated tenor vocals about matters such as 'The story of life' / 'is hello and good-bye'. About 2/3 of the way through we get to some sort of bridge, suggesting we sleep 'until we meet again', and it drifts off to nothing among some gongs - before a distorted guitar comes back in and takes us home via a flying carpet of burning riffage. Guru Guru are second-tier Krautrock for me but this second side can stand up against the best moments by Dzyan or Cosmic Jokers, for sure.

4 July 2016

Guided by Voices - 'Sunfish Holy Breakfast' (Matador)

Even big record companies like Matador make mistakes sometimes. I'm referring to the label which incorrectly lists this as a 33 1/3 rpm release, which gets me every time, so trusting am I of printed materials. But that's the only mistake they made - this EP, really pulled together from odds and ends, has somehow snuck into my personal canon of GbV's greatest works. Maybe it's just a case of right-place/right-time; at this point, Pollard and company could really do no wrong. Two of these songs were previously released ('Stabbing a Star' & 'If We Wait') and both are great, but the latter is transcendent, and also among the most literally written of any Pollard song ever, lyrically. It's another inspirational tune, akin to 'Watch Me Jumpstart', except the collective pronoun 'we' turns this into a group exercise, and the musical progression follows the lyrics. A drunken friend once unlocked it; the first verse is drenched in self-doubt, the drums come in and rouse the narrator towards action, but then doubt returns and he falls back on his knees until ultimately deciding to rush out the door and seize the world. It's also funny that for as much as Pollard has enriched my life with his cryptic turns of phrase, here, where he lays it down honestly and directly, it's even more powerful. What else makes Sunfish Holy Breakfast great? It actually opens with a Sprout tune, and a wonderful one in 'Jabberstroker'. The two sound quite unified in 'Canteen Plums' and 'A Contest Featuring Human Beings'; it's a union that was never quite as solid as during this moment. Most of the songs on this record are build around thick, chugga chugga guitar chords, though it's a testament to the lightness of melody on 'Beekeeper Seeks Ruth' that the mix doesn't get bogged down despite it's limited frequence range and dominance of the bedroom six-string overtones. When you throw in a few ascending 'The FLYing party is HERE!' it can really lift a track up. The thick guitars are full-on during 'Cocksoldiers and Their Postwar Stubble', and no amount of Kim Deal production can save this from its title, one of the most masculine monikers ever composed -- but that's actually beneficial, a faux-meatheadedness. The slow, four-chord progression takes us through a relatively slow melody, and it finds its way into the cortex like the rest of 'em. It still makes me jump around my room and do air-drums along with the rolls (and the vacuum cleaner sound that's on Alien Lanes is also here - maybe it's a bong hit?). Closer 'Heavy Metal Country' is also done in a big studio, but instead of getting the big 'rock' treatment, it sounds like something from the 4AD label circa the late 80s. All the male rock here stuff, it's really just a pisstake, as is the sleeve art -- I think -- which a casual observer may get confused with that one No Neck Blues Band album. A shoutout as well to Jim Greer, who wrote 'Trendspotter Acrobat', which slots in perfectly among the rest. Maybe it's time to check out those DTCV albums.

Guided by Voices - 'Alien Lanes' (Matador)

I hit a bit of a lull in this blog, because I was suddenly struck by how pointless and/or difficult it is to write about Alien Lanes. I mean, this is another mammoth formative record in my life, a record I have beaten into my brain for twenty years now, and without ever wavering in my love for it. But the show must go on, so I'll try to formulate something here that is worth your time, a screed to justify the RSS bandwidth you may be reading this over. So, yeah, Alien Lanes. I'll say one thing -- it is a testament to the heralded 'lo-fi' recording techniques that this record sounds exactly the same every time I play it, even though the grooves have to be worn out more than anything else on my shelves, and also regardless of which type of sound-reproducin' equipment I play it on. Yes, ever since I snuck away from my high school's class visit to the College Faire (a trade show where various shitty local/ish institutions of higher learning set up tables and tried to talk us into applying to them) and purchased this, shrinkwrapped and new, I've been enthralled by its vision. This was supposed to be the start of GbV phase two (or three?), after Bee Thousand brought them notoriety, but really it's the penultimate gasp of their period of truest greatness. Alien Lanes is the perfect synthesis of everything they did, which includes wyrd folk-ish experiments ('They're Not Witches', 'Big Chief Chinese Restaurant'), perfect bubblegum ('Game of Pricks', 'My Valuable Hunting Knife'), 60s throwbacks ('As We Go Up We Go Down'), a few stunning Sprout songs ('A Good Flying Bird', 'Straw Dogs'), a few of Pollard's most iconic Pollard rock masterpieces ('Watch Me Jumpstart', 'Motor Away', 'My Son Cool'), some very fragmented-yet-rewarding sketches ('Gold Hick', 'Cigarette Tricks'), intentionally dumb rockers (surprising live favourite 'Pimple Zoo'), some rather experimental sci-fi songforms ('Auditorium', 'Hit') - as well as one of the greatest opening cuts ever ('A Salty Salute') and one of the most forgettable closers ('Alright'). And just before that, labeled as 'presumed throwaway', the stark, chilling 'Always Crush Me', which is almost showoffy - like bragging about the full extent of one's genius. And all the tracks I didn't mention, which are almost uniformly great and sound great when singing along to (let's name 'Blimps Go 90', 'King & Caroline', 'Closer You Are', 'Evil Speakers' because I like typing the titles almost as much as I like listening to them). And shitty album artwork that looks like it was done in Corel Draw (I bet it was, it was 1996 after all!). It's a complete package. One of my favourite memories is sitting around in a car, on tour with some friends' band, in 2005 I think, and listening to this while pantomiming hand motions to act out the lyrics. It was a brotherhood united by our love for this record and it's infinite mysteries, earworm-generating inspiration, and awe-inducing imagery. And it was fun to pretend to park a forklift, 'like a billion stars flickering from the grinder's wheel', though I don't remember the specific hand gesture to go with that one. Please play 'My Son Cool' at my funeral, and I wish they would have played 'Motor Away' at my birth. No, 'Watch Me Jumpstart'. Watch Me Continue to find inspiration twenty years into my lifetime bond with this masterpiece. Thanks.