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31 July 2017

D.R. Hooker - 'The Truth' (Subliminal Sounds)

How do you argue with an artist who looks like this? D.R. Hooker's record is famous more for its obscurity than its music, which is unfair. It's Christian psych at its best, not built around heavy guitar crunching like the Fraction Moon Blood record, but mostly flowing pop-rock songs that show Hooker's talent for songwriting -- if only he had gotten a larger audience at the time! And his voice isn't bad either - not enough to stand out against the million other rock voices of the greatest decade (the 70s, of course, with this coming out in '72) but with an expressiveness that's enhanced by the occasional echo/delay flutters applied at the ends of key verses and lyrics. But it's the backing band that excels here. 'Forge Your Own Chains' has a great swing to it, showing a precision of rhythm but a languid pulse, almost funky. Opener 'The Sea' is beautiful, elegant in its vocal melody and accented with sharp guitars. I don't know who these guys were, really - the rhythm section are the Sheck brothers, one of whom is credited on an Edgar Winter recording, but not much else that's recognisable to a layman. 'The Thing' is maybe my pick of the album, with sharp riffs courtesy of Hooker's own guitar, crescendoing into a cacophony with some gurgling analogue electronics and a psychedelic sheen. Or maybe it's 'I'm Leaving You', where Hooker's Jesus-lite persona gets its biggest test, as he becomes a funky soul vampire crooning about the end of a relationship over a wall of screaming flanged guitars. It's pretty fucking secular, but then the whammy of the title track, followed by 'The Bible', is where he really lays down the Word. 'The Bible' builds into an almost orgasmic peak, with Hooker's intoning of 'The bible, the bible' being so hypnotic that when it all gets quiet for a second and revs back up it's a stunning effect. When listening to this I like to stare into the off-centred spiral on the label, and take in the smell of acrid Christ-smoke, wet ferns and sand that this album seems to give off. The whole thing ends with some deliberate, obvious backwards speech, which I'm not going to risk destroying my belt-drive to hear but I assume it's imploring us to praise the Lord, or maybe praise Hooker himself (you gotta wonder about anyone who dresses up like Jesus and self-releases rock music, right?). The big complaint here is the fidelity - I assume this is a bootleg like most of these private-press reissues (supposedly there were only 99 copies of the original) so it was probably mastered from a non-mint original. Or maybe it's supposed to sound like this - this wasn't exactly Abbey Road studios to begin with, and this is lo-fi or rather 'mid-fi' before any such term existed. There's a constant sense of having dust on my stylus, distortion around the edges and a pretty murky mix when things get thick (which they often do!). So I kinda wish there was a properly remastered version out there, but maybe there is, as this has been reissued a zillion times and I just got this '99 repress secondhand. Apparently he made a second album (which I haven't heard) with the promising title of Armageddon - maybe would be a nice pairing with the decidedly anti-Christian Comus?

30 July 2017

The Honeymoon Killers ‎- 'Les Tueurs De La Lune De Miel' (Riskant)

Don't confuse them with the early Jon Spencer band! This Belgian group actually put out an album before this under the band name Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel, but it wasn't as bouncy or sharp as this one, and the band name was a mouthful, even though it just means 'honeymoon killers' in French. Marc Hollander & Vincent Kenis from the brilliant Aksak Maboul are present here and their influence is felt, surely. These songs are bursting with energy, driven by either the vocals of Yvon Vromman or Véronique Vincent, and there's all sorts of electric energy tracing around the edge. Somehow punk is never very convincing when sung in a French accent but 'Fonce À Mort' comes pretty damn close; there's random dub/echo effects on the drums, broken glass synth lines, and saxophone bleats to keep you on your toes. Every song is driving and dancey without being monotonous; they're not a million kilometres from American bands from the same time like Pylon or Suburban Lawns. 'Ariane' is the hit I always play the most, which is actually instrumental; there's another version of it I heard on the radio once, from a 7", which is even better. The lyrics are printed in French and German for this German edition. I struggle with my high school level French to get what the songs are about, but 'Flat' starts off by talking about listening to Fleetwood Mac and 'J4' seems to narrate a story of domestic life. But I could be totally wrong; it doesn't really matter, since I'm enjoying the whole package. Aksak's more avant-garde tendencies are held in check here, with some straight-up hooks and fun keyboard parts, a goofy version of 'Route Nationale 7' that is practically novelty music except it's just so good, especially when followed by 'Ariane', a spacey anthem of paleofuturism. It's where pop music can be radical and challenging and while this would sound like a post-Rough Trade retro band now, something about the French accent gives it an earnestness that perseveres; like Family Fodder minus the irony, or I guess more like Aksak Maboul with the prog knob turned all the way down. The closing cut ('L'Heure De La Sortie') is the slow plodder sung with a robot voice, yet it's awesome. If they had been on my honeymoon, it would have been enhanced, not killed. Oh yeah, there's a Serge Gainsbourg cover, too ('Laisse Tomber Les Filles'). Fantastic.

29 July 2017

Home Blitz - 'Foremost & Fair' (Richie)

How an artist progresses in just a few years! The first clue is the cover, where typeface and drawing indicate this will should sound like a Fairport Convention spinoff, though that's a bit of an oversell. At first it's a total red herring (though in the keyboard and harpsichord bits initially heard, especially during 'I'm That Key', there's certainly some influence of more regal, courtly music than before) but then side two's 'Tell Me There' appears and we are in some sort of bizarro New Jersey-Shirley Collins hybrid; where power pop meets ragged bedroom punk and British folk too! Another clue is the voice - Mr. DiMaggio has raised his pitch even higher, or at least is breathing harder behind it. When you focus on the tone of his beautiful yelp-croon, his debt to Scott Miller is even more obvious than before. 'The Hall' has an organ crunch which feels like way more than a one-man recording; it's somehow one of the best Home Blitz songs ever, even if it's hidden at the end of side 1. 'Downtown' breaks into a musique-concrete based bridge over which he pontificates in the most 'Watch Who You're Calling Space Garbage Meteor Mouth' manner possible, and otherwise it's maybe all in the affect, but it's a hell of a method I must admit. And then there's 'Why It Cries', the moment of total free-from experimentation that harkens back more to DiMaggio's other band Car Commericals, or to that one time I was left unsupervised in a music instrument shop that focused on medieval instruments. It's a great expanse of space, which would be described as 'fucking around' to the uninitiated, but it's a vision of existence committed to vinyl, and then erupting in a bit of a jig. Thank god for the ability to hear so much music these days; I keep recalling that collection of Jonathan Lethem essays called The Ecstasy of Influence, which is a great title to describe music like this. It's not like no one ever synthesised different influences in the past, but it feels so much more open these days, which isn't to diminish the marvellous leftfield accessibility of Foremost & Fair - just that it's a bit less of a headscratcher when a young musician can discover so much out there via digital means. I guess what really matters is the curiosity, which is here in spades. I can't wait to hear what he'll do next, if he's still active, that is.