Friday, 30 November 2007

THEE HEADCOATS – PUNK ROCK IST NICHT TOT (FRIENDS OF THE BUFF MEDWAY FANCIERS ASSOCIATION)

THEE HEADCOATS – PUNK ROCK IST NICHT TOT (FRIENDS OF THE BUFF MEDWAY FANCIERS ASSOCIATION)

Seemingly intent and destined to leave ringing in the most militant punk of ears “Punk Rock Ist Nicht Tot” is a stand out Billy Childish number as he leans towards a more Stooges like direction picking away at the lower strings and successes of his instrument.  With a gut reaction, this is “I Wanna Be Your Dog” without the sleigh bells and cunnilingus.

As ever sounding scolding Childish snaps out his latest barrage of aggressive tone and instruction as he hardly exhibits any degree of appreciation for this existence of this song and its form.  He hasn’t done so bad from punk but he hasn’t done so great either.

If you have not already guessed from the title this is a surface level scathing attack on punk rock, which at this time in history (circa 2000 and since) does feel like something of a soft target for him to be baiting and abusing.  Then again punk rock is something that’s mutated into a multi million pound/dollar industry for some while others just have not got their taste.  As with life in general there has been a poverty gap born out of this movement being molested and ultimately it has rendered it no good (nicht tot).  Perhaps he was just feeling bitter the day that he authored the song, maybe a large bill came through the door.

This is a much better Thee Headcoats single than usually comes down the line.  While there is no questioning Childish’s ability as a guitar player there is slight frustration with the manner in which he executes his muse as lo-fi speed garage usually rules the roost and backs his latest niggle and rant.  This song is altogether a different beast, slowly paced and played way down the frets.  As I said, it’s born to leave ringing in the ears.

One of their best songs ever.

Thesaurus moment: pop.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

MUDHONEY – SUCK YOU DRY (REPRISE)


MUDHONEY – SUCK YOU DRY (REPRISE)

This is a fucking blistering track which was probably the first Mudhoney song that “normal people” heard in real time (in other words the first single released by the band after grunge went postal).

It opens with a tambourine rattle which in a few split seconds builds beautiful anticipation before a particularly farty grunge guitar from Steve Turner begins unloading a major gallop as Mark Arm calls out the audience offering up the opportunity for them to lose their shit.

In many ways this is the perfect (and the best) Mudhoney track as everyone is playing to their fullest potential at a pace seldom achieved by the band. Then just two and half minutes later it is gone, far from having outstayed its welcome.

Other than seeing the video on 120 Minutes one Sunday night, my most vivid memory of this track was when I played it on the train to a girl called Claire that I fancied back in 1993. She made comment “its pretty obvious what that song is about” in reference to repeated reference to sucking. Yikes, it hadn’t even occurred to me.

From here the release comes accompanied by further bolts of energy in the form of “Deception Pass”, “Over The Top” and “Underide”. “Over The Top” is particularly notable for being a Motorhead cover that Mudhoney completely make their own. “Underide” is an equally curious ride that feels like the soundtrack to drunken confessional telephone conversation made on a mobile while behind the wheel of a car. This is reckless stuff.

Thesaurus moment: charge.

Mudhoney
Reprise

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

THE KNACK – MY SHARONA (CAPITOL)

THE KNACK – MY SHARONA (CAPITOL)

As far as the history of one hit wonders goes this single finds itself sat on top of the throne.  “My Sharona” is just basically a very good song that coasts the good side of both new wave and pop without being compromised by either.

From the off it flies with a thumping stomp that immediately skewers its claws into the mind’s ear.  With this it causes the heart to pound quicker and the foot of the listener begins to tap.  Within a matter of seconds this song is already familiar, stuck in the memory bank and almost impossible not to respond healthily to.  Then the singer opens his mouth and it almost sounds like Devo.  And suddenly this just might be the greatest song from the end of seventies.

I have always wondered why The Knack only had one song.  Was it a fluke that this single was so good?  Was their entire premise a fa├žade, were they only pretending to be a new wave band?  Looking into their history it would seem an immediate backlash based around accusations of being Beatles copyists and writing songs about teenage girls killed their career.  Indeed listening to the flipside “Let Me Out” proves a decent experience as it is a more than passable song in the style of say Redd Kross with those Devo like vocals.  In other words they were over too soon.

In modern culture the song has always resonated, not least during the interview in the Nirvana video Live Tonight Sold Out where Dave Grohl compares “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to “My Sharona”.  Obviously the initial reaction is to scoff but then given some thought the comparison isn’t quite so wild.  Likewise the appearance of the song in Reality Bites saw some kind of Generation X acknowledgement and appreciation as Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo danced like fools in a petrol station to the song while Ethan Hawke just stood slack and cool denying himself the power of the music.

It would appear that The Knack were a decent band.

Thesaurus moment: premature.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

TEENAGE FANCLUB – AIN’T THAT ENOUGH (CREATION RECORDS)


TEENAGE FANCLUB – AIN’T THAT ENOUGH (CREATION RECORDS)

Unfortunately for me this represented the band having something of an off day, of the band really putting the fanny into Teenage Fanclub and serving as the first chink in the armour for a very long time. That said when a band is liked as much for its personality as it is for its music such things tend to be soon forgiven and an effort will be made to enjoy such a record. Not necessarily by me however.

For me the lyrics sound a bit too childish here for me. I think it is the point where they go prattling on about “toy town feeling” that most exhibits this worst. No such thing, no such place. By this stage the harmonies of the piece have already softened its emotional clout and using such imagery and terminology it suddenly feels like a full on regression is the order of the day. This almost sounds more like The Byrds than The Byrds did, the harmonies are high but they are not hard.

One day I will definitely revise this opinion.

Things thankfully improve as their cover of “Femme Fatale” follows lending something of a much needed nastiness to proceedings as they impressively add a male touch to Nico’s vocals. It is actually surprisingly far removed from the sound of the Velvet Underground but very successful in its characterisation as the band expertly paint it in their colours. Quite frankly this would have served better as the lead track.

The CD comes to a close with the track “Jesus Christ” which is a pretty unnerving song to be following such a cover and in general coming from such a formerly noisy band. Unsurprisingly penned by Alex Chilton and originally by Big Star this sounds like an all too formulaic run out for the band, one that really does not served them well. Choices made both good and bad.

Thesaurus moment: hiccup.

Teenage Fanclub

Sunday, 25 November 2007

THE DAMNED – LOVE SONG (CHISWICK)

THE DAMNED – LOVE SONG (CHISWICK)

The Damned were a strange band that managed to straddle a number of genres through their career and thus managed to elongate what could otherwise have been quite the limited lifespan.

“Love Song” is a blunt, sarcastic sounding gesture.  The band were punk but looked goth so such lyrical sentiments do not necessarily sit comfortably with their shtick.  Their music didn’t appear to carry the intellect of the torchbearers of the movement but with its hooks and thug chorus chants their appeal was not limited but such deviations.

Released in 1979 after they had left Stiff Records and taken from their third album Machine Gun Etiquette this single actually saw the band making their debut appearance on Top Of The Pops.

Listened to from a 21st century perspective it feels slightly tame.  With bass playing that sounds like it maybe about to fall apart at any moment it rumbles with something of a Motorhead motion as it all gets delivered at a Ramones pace.  There is no questioning the hook of the piece but time does expose the basic playing involved and slightly one dimensional delivery of the song.  In other words time has not been kind.

That aside The Damned were powerful forerunners and for this their work must be valued and appreciated at a time when younger and more cynical ears hold it within their means to tear their material apart.

There was a reason why this band played on The Young Ones.

Thesaurus moment: regard.

Friday, 23 November 2007

SPOON – THE WAY WE GET BY (12XU)

SPOON – THE WAY WE GET BY (12XU)

For the longest time Spoon were the best kept secret in alternative rock as they consistently put out strong release after release without too much in the way of fanfare that might serve to ruin their spirit or allow it all to go to their heads.  In many ways they were the perfectly formed unit.

This EP was released in the UK on the 12XU label run by Gerard Cosloy with the name obviously borrowed from the Wire song title.  With such a name it conjures up a post-punk sensibility which is a movement/bracket I guess Spoon could fit into (a band having taken their own name from a Can album) but ultimately their output is much more tuneful, possibly even leaning towards to pop in its execution.  Theirs is a very adult sound in an Elvis Costello manner.

“The Way We Get By” is one of the band’s stand out numbers.  With its playful key opening it boasts a sense of swing that is sadly so allusive in modern guitar music, this is classic stuff.  Then it lurches forward into motion.  By the time it reaches the chorus the listener is sold as the desperation of the piece resonates while accompanying personal victory.

This has always been a stand out Spoon tracks being one that relies so heavily on the piano line.  Personally for me it hit hardest when suddenly it appeared on the soundtrack of Stranger Than Fiction.  This was a very emotional time for me as it was a movie I was watching on an early date with a girl I had high hopes for so obviously it came at a moment when I was becoming thoroughly wrapped up in proceedings.  In the end though this song remains with me long after said lady has left my life.

Elsewhere stacked on the release are six live radio performances in addition to three music videos that you are unlikely to see on MTV.

The radio performances originate from four sessions recorded in 2001 and 2002 at stations in both the UK and America.  Included are covers of The La’s “I Am The Key” (albeit not a great song) and the great “Me And The Bean” by lesser known band The Sidehackers.  The pick of the bunch is the breezy drive through of “Anticipation”.

This is a great band no doubt.  Don’t let the crow on the cover mislead you.

Thesaurus moment: ripe.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

GIL SCOTT-HERON – PIECES OF A MAN (FLYING DUTCHMAN/RCA)

GIL SCOTT-HERON – PIECES OF A MAN (FLYING DUTCHMAN/RCA)

The debut studio album from Gil Scott-Heron is a magnificent piece of work.  It is an album that shits many gears and surfs several genres as it crosses streams to capture Scott-Heron at the height of his powers, at the most meaningful with his words.

Recorded and released in 1971 the album of eleven songs is as strong a debut as anybody, comparable and equal to most milestone records in black music history.  Even though his dad played for Celtic here was (and is) a performer heavily entrenched in political dissent serving as both an informer and trailblazer.

It opens with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” which remains his most famous song.  Often considered one of the first rap songs (definitely a prototype) over the years it has served as inspiration to thousands (maybe even millions) it pounds like an elephant as Scott-Heron’s voice booms over proceedings.  This song is sharp and blunt all at the same time, explicitly name checking so much that were wrong with the times while acting as some kind of wakeup call to his public (the black public) in an attempt to address the issues that were going unreported in the media.  In the past my friends and I have laughed out loud at the sheer velocity of the track, the determination in the delivery is to be truly admired.  This is the toughest song to ever feature jazz flute and easily up there with the best album openers in the history of music.

From here the record maintains a high standard.  High on stirring emotions Scott-Heron covers so many important issues of the day in addition to offering escapism and some kind of option for his listeners caught in similar positions and situations.

It doesn’t take long for the album to deliver another solid as “Lady Day And John Coltrane” resembles one of the most upbeat and optimistic songs in the trough of history.  In essence only a song about his favourite music, its sentiments are akin to “Rubber Ring” by The Smiths but delivered in a much more assertive manner than suggests a more positive and cathartic outcome in the power of music.  Suddenly Scott-Heron is not only performer but also fan and listener, very much at one with the listener as he expresses the importance of music in selfless fashion.  It’s a glorious song.

The tone swings again as “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” tells the story of drug addiction and its impact on home life.  This was urban ahead of its time.  The voice being expressed is somewhat autobiographical exhibiting a rare degree of conscience in much and a real earnest attitude, almost confession.  Again there is something exhilarating and oddly upbeat with the way in which this is delivered.  The music is heart stopping as you sense the protagonist nearing home and where issues most raise their head.

The title track is a devastating croon laced with pain.  It is the most succinct telling of how life can break a man and tear apart families that you are ever likely to hear.

With this the album is filled out by songs of optimism and such as “When You Are Who You Are” prior to returning to a sense of pummelling realism via “A Sign Of The Ages”.  It is quite the emotional rollercoaster with it’s author laying everything on the line.

Towards the end “Or Down You’ll Fall” smacks with the chorus “the world is just a simple circle, you got to keep turning” which serves to warn and inspire all at the same time.  Its just a smart message.

It concludes with the almost ten minute “The Prisoner” which is the most avant jazz piece of the record.  With its piano drops it features Scott-Heron at his most reflective while sending out another message to his audience to not fall make the mistakes he has over the course of his, at the time, brief journey so far.  He describes an example of his people’s struggle and plight, of being stuck in vicious routine lacking the social mobility to climb out of the situation and the blues that arise from.  This is addressing what I call the great lie.  All in all it ensures the album does not end with a false dawn.  There is only so much optimism to be taken from the world and sadly it is not necessarily where the ending and solution lie.

To be rediscovered year after year after year.

Thesaurus moment: time.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

PUBLIC ENEMY – MUSE SICK-N-HOUR MESS AGE (DEF JAM RECORDINGS/COLUMBIA)


PUBLIC ENEMY – MUSE SICK-N-HOUR MESS AGE (DEF JAM RECORDINGS/COLUMBIA)

The fifth Public Enemy studio record is one that holds up better with time more than a person would be forgiven to expect. And this arrives after the blatant handicap the album carries with the glaringly awful title. Chuck D would have been wise to have just called it “Music And Our Message”. That rolls off the tongue.

Release in 1994 it very much reflects a sense of disillusion with the art, of a form that has been mutated into something no longer empowering to its audience but instead many ways stifling. The band never really got caught up in the whole Gangsta nonsense that overwhelmed and for a while engulfed hip-hop in the nineties but in the lyrics spat from Chuck D he certainly addressed it. Flavor Flav wasn’t quite a reality TV star just yet.

It doesn’t take long for the record to pummel you like a sledgehammer. From the off the Bomb Squad is weaving chilling samples and new beacons/sirens to provide a latest wake up call for the listener. If there was any suspicion or suggestion that PE were mellowing out it wasn’t going to happen without a fights (that debatably came with He Got Game).

The show opens with “Whole Lotta Love Goin’ On In The Middle Of Hell” which lives up to its name as an incendiary sonic build up sees D and Flav burst onto proceedings at the 1:50 mark in explosive fashion. “The beginning of the end of an era”, this was not optimistic stuff.

Soon the first single from the album arrives in the form of the playful “Give It Up” complete with wacky video, Flavour declarations and laidback guitar line amongst the deep bass beats. Again D serves with major flow offering a necessary option to the listener.

Things remain visceral on tracks such as “Bedlam 13:13” and “Hitler Day” and certainly the second single “So Whatcha Gonna Do Now?” packs plenty of punch. The “Whites Lines” and A Tribe Called Quest nods held in “Race Against Time” suggest some kind of leaning and yearning towards a previous period. Unfortunately it then cannot be denied that things become a bit plodding partway through, not least on tracks such as “Aintnuttin Buttersong”. It all feels a tad self-defeating. Perhaps ultimately aiming for twenty-one tracks was in the end a bit too ambitious.

This record may not have made the ripples of their earlier albums but that was nothing down to the quality of the material.

Thesaurus moment: still.

Public Enemy
Def Jam Recordings

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

VARIOUS – THE SOUNDS MACHINE EP 1 (SOUNDS)


















VARIOUS – THE SOUNDS MACHINE EP 1 (SOUNDS)

Dating from 1988 and originally given away free with Sounds magazine (ask your parents) this four song seven inch is a pretty stark display of where alternative music was at in the late eighties and the extreme gulf there appeared to be comparing the United Kingdom with the United States.  The fact that one side is taken up by The Mission while the US side manages to squeeze in the Throwing Muses, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr just displays who was taking quality over quantity more seriously.

The Mission track (a live version of “Shelter From The Storm”) is as to be expected even though it begins with John Paul Jones joining them onstage to, I guess, add more bass guitar to proceedings.  Taking in its grey Goth legacy I would say though that this music for the time I would imagine to be more MTV and radio friendly that what is/was coming on the other side.  Ultimately it sounds bloated, sounds like The Cult.

Sounding more streamlined and generally more exciting, unsurprisingly the three American bands blow their British counterpart away on this occasion.  I’m probably biased by nature but there truly is no competition here.

The suitably named “Mania” sees Throwing Muses galloping through a live version of their contribution at a hectic rate that sounds straight from the prairie, complete with vocal warbles.  Not their finest moment.  More inspiring is the live version of “Hey” from the Pixies which has always been one of their true slow delights prior to flipping its wig and firing off.

Finally Dinosaur Jr close proceedings with the suitably scrappy and slack filled contribution of “Throw Down” that is semi acoustic and inhabited by the trademark J Mascis drawl that barely clocks in at a minute (if that).  Some things never changed.

America beat us.

Thesaurus moment: moment.

Sounds

Monday, 19 November 2007

FUGAZI – 3 SONGS (DISCHORD)


FUGAZI – 3 SONGS (DISCHORD)

Originally released on Sub Pop, Fugazi made a conscious decision to release this three song seven inch available in unlimited form on Dischord immediately after.  For them it would have been criminal to take their music exclusive to few and out of reach to the masses.  This was them stamping their ethos onto proceedings.  For them punk rock about levelling the playing field and these were the ways they could do it.

I once had an interesting experience with this release when one night when driving back from a gig in Chelmsford I started the stereo home with “Break-In” only to be faced by my partner in Gringo Records kicking up a storm saying how shit the song was and how it was “cock rock that sounded like Bon Jovi”.  This was the weirdest perception.  Talk about miss the point.  However thus from here the song would always have a certain notoriety in my mind.  Fugazi was always a band that could expose the fakes and frauds.

The seven inch actually opens with “Song #1” which is a dub infused stop start that exhibits Ian Mackaye at his scolding best as he stomps into business with an opening line of “Song Number One is not a fuck you song” as Picciotto echoes each final (lasting) word serving as some kind of hype man in a white boy James Brown call and response style.  The message clear, it’s about community and solidarity, pointing out the worrying trends that can exist within scenes be it punk, indie or anything generally.  This is reality tellingly reiterated by his example of people that “fighting for a haircut, then you grow your hair”.  This was territory previously furrowed with Minor Threat on songs such as “Fashionite” and goes a long way to explaining why they never did mainstream magazine interviews.

Moving on the literally titled “Joe #1” is another bass led chunk of hardcore punk maturing into post hardcore as an instrumental track roaming and pacing like a prize fighter before reaching an eventual bombastic finale with all parties involved exhibiting additional touches to their treats (to their playing).

Then it closes with the aforementioned problematic “Break-In”.  Sure this is an explicit nod (maybe step backwards) to their hardcore roots but it is just done so well as Picciotto voice sounds so exotic and important, pained and with purpose.  Then at the chorus Mackaye’s vocals storm in seemingly repeating the favour of the first track.  Far from being “cock rock” the track takes on an altogether approach to such proceedings holding up abuse and shining a light.  Then with that rush its done.  “She’s the covering”.

Fugazi was never really a singles band.

Thesaurus moment: concise.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

NIRVANA – SLIVER (TUPELO)


NIRVANA – SLIVER (TUPELO)

Situated between Bleach and Nevermind and featuring Dan Peters of Mudhoney on drums “Sliver” was always something of a mystery when the swimming baby album was blowing up. It so much of a mystery that for the longest time many of us thought it was actually called “Silver”.

This version is the CD single that Tupelo released when Sub Pop chose to licence their records in Europe. I bought this in Andy’s Records in late 1992 around the same time that “In Bloom” was released as a single and the two studio tracks from this release were now seeing the light day on Incesticide.

“Sliver” is something of an infantile burst of energy benefiting greatly from a bouncy bassline provided by Novoselic that bursts into a strange tale of a child being shipped between relatives which was probably one of Cobain’s more explicit and literal recollections of his troubled youth. It is a song that demonstrates the band’s growth and would have sat a lot more comfortably on Nevermind than Bleach. In the end it wound up being the second track on Incesticide where it ultimately probably sat even better.

The flipside of the original release is the muddy “Dive” which does cast a nod to the thick and dense growls of Bleach as the guitar literally drips with feedback and overdrive before the vocals launch into a downward spiral of wretched gestures.

With the main tracks eventually becoming easily available and relatively familiar with their audience the real gold of the release comes with the additional live tracks.

The live version of “About A Girl” is an altogether more speedy and fizzy take on the song that personally I find preferable to the studio recording on Bleach. Next “Spank Through” roars as a seldom heard treat that contains perhaps one of the greatest breaks/stops in the history of guitar music. In many ways these two tracks prove more invigorating than the actual lead tracks.

Thesaurus moment: extended.

Nirvana
Tupelo

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

TAD – JINX (SUB POP)


TAD – JINX (SUB POP)

Did you ever see that movie Singles? You know, the one set in Seattle at the height of the grunge craze that presented the world in such an appealing and fun but adult manner. No one there was ugly or dysfunctional and suddenly Generation X was something to really aspire to being part of. Do you remember that scene where Matt Dillon (playing Eddie Vedder) puts new car speakers into the bubble car of Bridget Fonda? To demonstrate the ferocity of his gesture he plays her the track “Jinx” by Tad. As it rumbles the car out comes Chris Cornell to nod in appreciation because all the grunge musicians lived in houses next to each other at the height of the scene, it was just easier that way. As Dillon becomes orgasmic at the sound produced by the uber heavy Tad eventually the windows vibrate to the degree that they smash and it all goes wrong. This is a pretty fair visual description for the career of Tad. Later (or earlier, I forget) when Bridget Fonda accidentally phones up Tad Doyle and speaks dirty down the phone before realising her mistake this truly is a metaphor for the major label interest that scuffed up against the band. You see, Tad were almost it for more than five minutes.

“Jinx” is a ballsy track before the words of Mr Doyle have even dropped on proceedings. The chunky riff that immediately emerges holds the dense kind of promise that only the toughest of acts can insinuate in an intro.

To be a jinx takes a really stinging degree of effort on the individual, it is as tiring to jinx as it is to be jinxed. In other words this track is all over negative taking in the crumbling association of relations, describing the inevitable chaos that comes with Tad. It is truly a song that flies even if the principle is too heavy to be elevated.

Produced by Butch Vig it possesses that grunge gloss that served to declaw or empower a band’s sound (depending on your metal or indie perspective).

With a close up of a cow’s nose on the cover and a photo of the band including Doyle wearing an Ed Gein t-shirt on the back this is a band that went out of its way to disturb and dismay, looking to upset anyone not wise enough to withstand or understand.

“Pig Iron” rocks up on the flipside as a more customary and stretched out example of grunge as the band plays it downtuned and downplayed with a dark demeanour that even holds a nod towards the terror whipped up by The Jesus Lizard with only the vocals letting it down when attempting to sound like a serial killer. Subtly suited this band.

Thesaurus moment: baleful.

Tad
Sub Pop

Sunday, 11 November 2007

ASOBI SEKSU – CITRUS (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)


ASOBI SEKSU – CITRUS (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)

Complete with lurid Japanese band name, Asobi Seksu have been lingering around New York for a couple of years now oblivious to a crowd and fan base baying for the music that they are suggesting.

Coming on like My Bloody Valentine from the grave with guitar jangles almost Johnny Marr-esqe in delivery and echoing Asian vocals that sound as if from another planet, the album opens strongly. And then the sound gets hard! For a while……..

I get the impression that the Blonde Redhead comparison is something of a red herring and it engulfs me with major misgivings. Sure the lineup and home city may match but the material on offer lacks in substance and electricity. It would seem the return of shredding walls of noise is very much back on the agenda this summer as the further this record proceeds; the more it drifts off out of control. Indeed unfortunately at times the sheer flatness of the wall of noise renders the vocalist as little more than some kind of Enya figure battling against the elements.

It just feels sadly dated in its production, it is fairly clean and crisp for what is in essence a noise record with thrills. In its high times it reminds me of some sort of Matador band I would expect to hear on a Hal Hartley soundtrack in the nineties but when things fizzle out, it seems to lose its way.

Asobi Seksu hardly match up to the Japanese translation of their name as the relative meditation of their MBV-lite arsenal ultimately runs the risk of sending the listener to sleep. Rather than being some kind of exciting Blonde Redhead prospect, instead it feels like Julee Cruise running away with the vocals on an average David Lynch soundtrack.

For a release I was actually really looking to listening to (and hoped to enjoy) the gimmick just does not appear to pay off resulting in something akin to the much missed Spooky-era Lush, sadly lacking any real bite.

Thesaurus moment: incomplete.

Asobi Seksu
Friendly Fire
One Little Indian

Friday, 9 November 2007

THE BREEDERS – SAINTS (4AD)

THE BREEDERS – SAINTS (4AD)

“Saints” is a very positive, pro-people kind of song that serves as some kind of message/gesture to those who might otherwise be stifled by the gloomy aspects of the era. The line and sentiment of “summer is ready when you are” is pure poetry and a rallying call that even I tried to employ at some stage to drag a lady from her slumber. However while Kim Deal has charisma in spades with my limited resources I found myself unable to employ such joyful persuasion.

This song is natural, the kind of tune that is memorable after just a few listens as it is classically assembled and expertly created. Is this produce of being a twin?

Unfortunately I uncover a flaw in this song’s mentality when I step out into Colchester town centre on a Saturday afternoon only to discover that my environment is caked with the kind of people I would not necessarily say I like and could hardly describe as saints. For me this reveals something of an err on the side of Deal and her empathy for humanity. Rewind.

Elsewhere the release contains “Grunggae” which is an early demo version of “Cannonball” which it would appear to the ears of the Deals be the sound of grunge combined with reggae. It is a very different take on the song compared to the version that eventually became a classic but no less fun. After this then comes a demo of “New Year” which proves a less spectacular find.

All is good.

Thesaurus moment:

The Breeders
4AD

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

STEVEN JESSE BERNSTEIN – PRISON (SUB POP)


STEVEN JESSE BERNSTEIN – PRISON (SUB POP)
As grunge ruled the roast at Sub Pop (and briefly the music world) this record truly stood out as something different and something special held in amongst so much long hair and fuzz. So many scenes have a person like Steven Jesse Bernstein and it is because they need them.
Bernstein was regarded the Beat writer poet of the scene and he certainly had an output to match such a title. He was friends with William S. Burroughs and had a history of depression. It was probably this sad reality that saw him taking his own life at the age of 40 by stabbing himself in the throat.
Released on April fool’s day in 1992 the original concept of Prison was to be a live recording of a reading made by Bernstein at the State Penitentiary Special Offender unit in Monroe, Washington in the style of Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison album. Unfortunately in the end the results were not necessarily usable so Steve Fisk was brought in to finish off the project using a method of scoring the recordings with jazz and ambient samples. In the end the record sounds better than its intention. Sadly the record was only partially complete when Bernstein took his life in October 1991.
Spread over ten tracks despite being born from such torturous origins this is actually a highly dynamic and often exhilarating album. Steve Fisk truly did a great job with the production and sound effects as the piercing voice of Bernstein rails over rather than against a tough set of sonic.
The album is book ended by the “No No Man” deliveries. The second part has since gone on to be probably the best-known track from Steven Jesse Bernstein eventually winding up being played over the opening sequence/titles of Natural Born Killers (even if it didn’t make the cut on the Trent Reznor soundtrack). The upbeat jazz backing reminds of a better, more exciting time where opportunities felt more plausible and kicks were not so hard to find. This is very cool. Bernstein is the No No Man, a person feeling lost in the shuffle and frustrated for it. Immediately he sounds at odds with the situation, looking to burn some reality into a spectrum that does not necessarily want (but needs) to hear it. The song sounds so perfect that I have often played it while DJing not least for the stinging opening line of “the stars are coming out” which promptly leads onto a heavy list of ordinary madness.
As things move on Fisk manages to squeeze out some heavy beats that often reminds of the collaboration between William S. Burroughs and The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy with bass that sounds like moving furniture.
On the whole the record displays a dense degree of self loathing and hostility to the world, often delivered in vividly aggressive and violent description. This is a hard existence to take. Against this however a few tender moments emerge such as “More Noise Please” which reminds of Jim Carroll perhaps rolling over the Blade Runner soundtrack. It feels like a rare moment of empathy in an otherwise troubled selection.
Love receives harsh treatment as “The Sport” offers a vivid take on proceedings over two parts ending in the ejaculation of a gunshot. Then “Party Balloon” manages to take and make something pleasant and apply so much misery to an object that holds joy and potential. Here Bernstein proves the kind of person that is grounded six feet under. He does concede how he “doesn’t understand my own thinking” but it still feels frighteningly fetishistic. Did this man ever experience a single jolt of happiness, ever laugh?
“Face” is the horrible towering epic of the piece. Over the course of twelve minutes he serves to debase himself while recounting and reliving many horrific moments from his life. Without backing it is the starkest recollection on the record pounding out like a magnified and horrific Bukowski passage. No one need suffer this much for their art. It sounds like the ugliest thing in existence, Hell on earth.
More muffled jazz serves as the backing for “This Clouded Heart” which is another pained description of a time and a place that does not feel welcoming to a newcomer. These barbed descriptions never relent as the imagery encountered and delivered on spot uncovers a world of seedy supreme that would best be buried.
And any reference to “The Man Upstairs” does not necessarily refer to God.
When it’s over I feel bludgeoned. Ultimately this is not an easy record to take in as Bernstein’s delivery proves quite monotone and relentless which proves both its strength and undoing. It also sounds at times terrifying and disturbing rendering it a piece of work you do not necessarily feel inclined to share or inflict on another person for fear that they may call your intentions into question. A blunt piece of mystery.
Thesaurus moment: incarcerate.
Steven Jesse Bernstein
Sub Pop

Saturday, 3 November 2007

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS AND KURT COBAIN – THE “PRIEST” THEY CALLED HIM (TIM KERR RECORDS)


WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS AND KURT COBAIN – THE “PRIEST” THEY CALLED HIM (TIM KERR RECORDS)
I’m not really sure if William Burroughs had any idea of who Kurt Cobain was but as you repeatedly pour over the lyrics of Nirvana it becomes glaringly obvious of how much of an influence Burroughs’ techniques were towards Cobain’s technique of putting words together. Whereas the Beatniks and hipsters clung onto Kerouac and the hippies grabbed hold of Ginsberg it was always the punks that fell for Burroughs. This was logical and inevitable.
“The “Priest” They Called Him” is a William Burroughs Christmas original. It’s the story of a junky looking for a fix on Christmas Eve and struggling to find solace or refuge in anyone, anywhere or anything. This is a tale Burroughs recounted a number of times including as “The Junky’s Christmas”. It is probably autobiographical. Over the top of his recording is Kurt Cobain wheeling out feedback drenched guitar along the lines of “Silent Night” then “To Anacreon In Heaven” serving as the closest he ever got to recording a Christmas carol. It is all so fucking festive. And thankfully it ends with an act of empathy.
Clocking in at almost ten minutes this is a drug addict’s version of “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. Even though the pair of them shared a taste and passion for such pursuits they recorded their parts separately with Burroughs doing his vocals on 25 September 1992 in Lawrence, Kansas while Kurt Cobain recorded his guitar part with Barrett Jones at the Laundry Room in Seattle in November 1992.
Originally released as a ten inch then later on CD, the record features a treated and fairly indistinguishable Krist Novoselic on the cover posing as “The Priest”.
Thesaurus moment: festive.
William S. Burroughs
Kurt Cobain
Tim Kerr Records

Friday, 2 November 2007

TRENT REZNOR – MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY NATURAL BORN KILLERS (NOTHING/INTERSCOPE)


TRENT REZNOR – MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY NATURAL BORN KILLERS (NOTHING/INTERSCOPE)
As soundtracks (and indeed scores) grow in stature and prominence as not only just a commercial outlet/cash in for studios and labels, the compiling and creation of soundtrack albums as the thinking man’s compilation has really become something of a work of art in itself. As Quentin Tarantino became one of the first people to most use dialogue snippets effectively in his soundtracks for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction it was actually the soundtrack to another movie that he wrote that really elevated the soundtrack to a new level. Natural Born Killers really hit notoriety upon release in the UK, falling foul of recent outcries and legislation, which lead to the movie being banned from home video for several years. As the bootleg began to do the rounds, the movie only grew in more and more notoriety, a notoriety that has been rather questioned over the years. With a darker than darker reputation associated with it the soundtrack became on of the few things attached the movie a kid could get his hands on and when Oliver Stone called in Trent Reznor as music supervisor he really knew what he was doing in order to capture the atmosphere he wanted. And when it came to the soundtrack album Reznor really went to town and took his role super seriously. I cannot think of another soundtrack album before and since that sounds like this. Sure dialogue is more evident on soundtrack CDs than ever now but this is more than an album it is more a combination of a self contained modern orchestration or something of an industrial goth/grunge mixtape. Musically this is far from the best soundtrack album to ever grace music history but I really believe it to be unique in its construction and sheer freedom in its usage and connection to movie sound bites. It begins with an initial gripe however as per usual here is a soundtrack that omits (for various reasons) a track that was in the movie. In one of my favourite film music moments in the movie Mickey and Mallory leave the opening scene and enter the credits driving crazily in their car to the accusing strains of “No No Man Part 2” by the late legend Steven Jesse Bernstein. Had that song been present here this release would have taken one step closer to perfection. What the record instead opens with is Leonard Cohen and “Waiting For The Miracle” as the soundtrack perhaps takes its cues from the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack that adopted such a tactic. Regardless of the choice’s origins it is a spot on selection as Cohen’s haunting voice sets an eerie and dark tone to proceedings as if speaking on behalf of Mickey and Mallory in addressing their hopes and desires. Then it kicks off as Juliette Lewis (Mallory Knox) asks a hillbilly “are you flirting with me?” and L7 drop on the scene like a bomb with “Shitlist”. It’s the perfect synchronisation. Then the song ends and returns to the scene of the crime and more carnage from the natural born killers themselves as they run wild in the diner before heading out to the desert accompanied by the harmonica of Dan Zanes on the “Moon Over Greene County” that serves up an expansive vision and view of proceedings. The anger resumes as Patti Smith smashes out “Rock N Roll Nigger” in the most defiant and rebellious sense looking to upset and offend. Then in another bipolar stroke Mickey and Mallory exchange more sweetness to the strains of “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies. Without doubt a twisted pairing on all fronts. After this a curious nod is made to Bob Dylan and Duane Eddy before Reznor arrives full blown with “Burn” by Nine Inch Nails and a suitable soundtrack for a riot with its overt sentiments beginning with “this world rejects me, this world threw me away, this world never gave me a chance, this world gonna have to pay”. That’s Rodney Dangerfield parenting for you. Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr) arrives on the scene as he stirs up a furor as the murderous couple go worldwide and establish a cult fanbase of weirdos including Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) from Mad Men curiously. Then on top of everything else the listener has to suffer Patsy Cline. By now the record is beginning to resemble one of those book and tape affairs that you had as a kid when portions of the movie would be placed on cassette and you followed the plot through the book. The words “spoiler alert” had yet to be invented it would seem. One of the albums highpoints arrives as “Ted, Just Admit It” by Jane’s Addiction gets spliced in with Mallory instigating a sexual assault cum homicide as Perry Farrell declares “nothing’s shocking” as he heads to the warble of “sex is violence” coupled with the infamous Ted Bundy sample which all eventually arrives at a climax of Diamanda Galas’ crazy voice doing a crazy version of “I Put A Spell On You” as it leads into the eventual demise of Knox’s victim coupled with a Dave Navarro wig out. Its truly punishing as it all ends in gunshots and all boxes get ticked. Thankfully things calm down as the reflective coupling of “History (Repeats Itself)” by A.O.S. and “Something I Can Never Have” by Nine Inch Nails serve to prepare for the massacre that lay shortly ahead. From here things fail to improve as they mess with forces they should not be tempering and as one snake bites another further insanity ensues to a soundtrack from Barry Adamson as the pair of them eventually wind up in a high security prison vulnerable at the hands of Warden Dwight McClusky (a possible descendant of Mrs McClusky from Grange Hill). Adamson provides a beautiful accompaniment to the image of a dead mother being eaten by ants. To fully exhibit the experience of being in prison Reznor decides to bring in Dr Dre to represent the African-American gangsta population behind bars. Sign of the times. Pre-dating her own music career Juliette Lewis gets her first music credit down with “Born Bad” which pre-empts another attempted assault on her before all hell breaks loose in the prison to the sound of Jello Biafra and Al Jourgensen as Lard with “Forkboy” that sounds like the banging of prison cell bars and the thunderous emergence of rioting prisoners. For the longest time the “Batonga In Batongaville” speech was our favourite track as its masterful delivery by Downey Jr served to encapsulate the multifaceted appeal of the meal with its sense of drama, rebellion, urgency and absurdity rendering it far beyond hilarious as the early stages of media ridiculous were being ploughed as the live stream being displayed in the movie proved not far from the rolling news that has eventually arrived on our news palates. With the climax closing in Reznor serves up some ambient noise via Nine Inch Nails with “A Warm Place” as there is a call for calm. At the close Leonard Cohen returns to bookend proceedings with “The Future” and message of looking towards the future. Whether some kind of Clockwork Orange change of heart redemption has occurred is open to debate and this song explains the uncertainty of what lay ahead. From here tagged onto the end is “What Would U Do?” by Tha Dogg Pound, which kind of knocks the cohesion of the piece and almost feels like a contractual obligation that perhaps serves to cheapen the piece. Certainly the question of the title fits. With reflection this is a pretty fucking big soundtrack that in many ways works better than the actual movie itself does. It’s a shame more people didn’t take their cues from this piece of work and create their own masterpieces.
Thesaurus moment: paradigm.
Trent Reznor
Nothing
Interscope

Thursday, 1 November 2007

REIN SANCTION – CREEL (SUB POP)


REIN SANCTION – CREEL (SUB POP)

When the Sub Pop grunge flag was flying at its highest point so many bands seems to go through the label and every now and then you could catch/snag a track and be truly blown away by the wares of yet another find by the label. Rein Sanction were one such band as this track appeared on the Revolution Come And Gone compilation and stood out as one of the highlights and true prospects on the label.

Alas Rein Sanction was one of the bands on Sub Pop that in the end didn’t make it. They hailed from Jacksonville, Florida (not exactly Seattle) and were formed when brothers Mark and Brannon Gentry found a bass player. After two albums they had split in 1993. I guess it just wasn’t to be.

“Creel” opens with a guitar noise that sounds as if it is creaking before tripping into a whirlwind and cacophony of overdriven guitars that layer beautifully as somewhere West Coast sounding laidback voices sing along as if being led astray by the distortion of the piece. It’s a sincere, lumbering piece of work where you can’t help but feel it is the instruments driving the players rather than vice versa. Held against such elements the voices represent some kind of yearning for a prior sense of control and energy with which to tackle such elements while at the same time feeling happy to submit and dispose. “Creel” is just a truly wonderful piece of work.

The flipside “Willowbreach” proves less inspiring as a similar vocal style is employed to a song that sounds a cross between Tad and Pond prior to drowning alive in lashings of wah. It has the clambering, drunken feel of lumberjack without quite nailing the rock on its head.

They coulda been a contender. Maybe they just didn’t look right.

Thesaurus moment: interloper.

Rein Sanction
Sub Pop