Thursday, 31 January 2008

MUDHONEY – PIECE OF CAKE (REPRISE)


MUDHONEY – PIECE OF CAKE (REPRISE)

After sticking around on Sub Pop for an extra album (and thus saving their bacon financially) Mudhoney eventually wound up on Reprise where they made their debut with Piece Of Cake in 1992. Along with Incesticide this was an album that I got as a present on cassette for Christmas that year.

This is a quite a derided record from a critical stance but I feel people tend to be unnecessarily harsh on Mudhoney for some reason. Perhaps they were disappointed in the fact that the band did not go out and make a record that sounded like Nevermind. To their credit though they did their own thing which was to stick completely to their roots and do exactly what they wanted.

Even though I have read this album described as a garage sounding album for me this leans more on the psychedelic elements of the Nuggets movement and sees the band sludging through cakes of controlled feedback, wah and distortion in a most swirling manner. This is the sound of band happily taking their time looking to cater their own desires first and those of the record label (and audience) second.

Most noticeable in the change of their sound from the early stuff is that they not long sound blunt and jagged in a Stooges style. In essence this is the natural progression from Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, a record itself that felt like a departure but despite having the songs it choked (for whatever reason) at the choking stage, failing to capture the songs at their best (which subsequent live versions revealed and satisfied).

Piece Of Cake opens with techno music. It’s a gag that is so representative of the times, of the playground war between ravers and grungers which for years would not allow me to like The Prodigy or SL2. I guess the 38 second intro was put in place to initially scare fans into they had made a rave record as a joke and perhaps too also display/demonstrate just how easy that kind of music was/is to produce.

The record properly opens with “No End In Sight” which feels like a grunged up version of “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello only with so much more brought to the table. It’s a truly celebratory start with a pounding and relentless pulse that cannot help but bring a body to motion. Somehow they appeared to discover the scientific formula for turning a clap into a legitimate beat, the Lukin/Peters pairing on rhythm section just sounds terrifying.

The process continues with the towering guitar of “Make It Now” that eventually builds to a swirling crescendo of a truly psychedelic groove and oscillation. Then the band even dares to wheel out a moog on the lethargic but powerful “When In Rome”, seemingly lamenting the imminent demise of the successful scene currently being thrust upon them and their mates.

A quick piece of further fucking about furrows the album’s brow before the lead single “Suck You Dry” fires proceedings into the stratosphere with a galloping jive serving to torment and send an observer insane. This is the music equivalent of taking a deep breath prior to jump out of a plane intoxicated. Maybe.

Blinding Sun” enters as an almost calming influence to the proceeds as the band takes the pace down a beat while also singing a dark song regarding contemplation and suicide. It was all in a day’s work.

From here the album proceeds to remain in a dark funk, scratching at blues and psychedelic rock as “Thirteenth Floor Opening” serves as a battered drone to career blues while the following “Youth Body Expression Explosion” is another moog filled act of sarcasm in the form of a bounding instrumental that would have felt at home during a jerky scene of a biker movie in the sixties.

As things proceed on the second time the pummelling “I’m Spun” opens things with a dizzying and contentious guitar line that never relents with its frustrating and agonising loop. This is the kind of guitar riff you play to piss people off, to clear a room and to inflict pain on a former loved one.

“Living Wreck” opens with the fantastic declaration “shooting for the stars, my my how lucky you are” before calamity ensues as a crash is soon predicted for the said living wreck. You can’t help but feel the band sounds slightly resentful.

The eggy fart bass sound of “Let Me Let You Down” is quite a humongous gesture as the intentions begin to feel paper thin and temporary. This is probably as close as Mudhoney ever got to achieving the brown note. This is then accompanied by a 29 second literal fart to compliment their achievement.

Just before things close out the band tear into one final explosion of energy with “Ritzville” ending on a mantra of “it’s a good a place as any to go and die”. Then comes the near acoustic emission of remorse in “Acetone” which suggests and exemplifies bad tidings, not least for mentioning “the bitter cup”. Personally I don’t think this is a very good song but then you sense that it wasn’t supposed to be,

With Piece Of Cake the band were making a real statement commenting on a scene currently experiencing a mainstream and financial triumph that would never maintain and was destined to implode. Meanwhile as they sat back and could do no wrong in the eyes of the suits it was all coming like the proverbial piece of cake.

Thesaurus moment: biscuit.

Mudhoney
Reprise

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

GRANT LEE BUFFALO – FUZZY (SLASH)


GRANT LEE BUFFALO – FUZZY (SLASH)

For a short while in the nineties this record appeared to represent my pained heart.  This is one of a few albums from the era that I consider perfect.  Even though time has been kind on it, I doubt there are many people out there who share my affection for it but coupled with the times and my age and all the elements that came with, this was just the best to me.

During my awkward teenage years this was one of my favourite records expressing a kind of tenderness in the world that I was never really able to find or discover.  With these songs however there was some kind of suggestion and hope that there was more to be had than what I was experiencing and if I kept looking at the map then maybe I might get there in the end.  Maybe.

Grant Lee Buffalo were always favourites of the Q crowd which meant it was an all too adult take on the flannel movement.  Despite vaguely qualifying as an alternative rock act (not quite grunge) they were able to tickle the fancy of those that appreciated the REM IRS catalogue.  In Grant Lee Phillips was a songwriter with an alternative swing able to put colourfully into words the torment of the times.

Early on a lot of comparisons saw them tarred with the REM brush although the vocals of Grant Lee Phillips are very removed to those of Michael Stipe.  Instead this morning listening to this record for the first time in years it actually resembles more some kind of hybrid of World Party, the Screaming Trees and Crazy Horse.

Spread over eleven tracks this is quite a mature sounding record.  In the main it inhabits sensible and restrained emotions while at the same time weaving indications that the ultimate desire to kick loose and kick apart.  However like the Fonz seldom does the band lose its cool as it even occasionally veers towards wallow.  These were acceptable love songs for the grunge audience.

The band emerged during the grunge era and while not being some hulking fuzzed up proposition (despite the album’s name) they did benefit from the scene and climate in general giving over exposure to such leftfield acts.  I can’t help but feel those days are sadly gone now.

For me there is a kind of pain being expressed here that I could only get with when I was younger, a kind of passion that now feels laboured even if it was sincere.

Hailing from Los Angeles, Grant Lee Buffalo were not a scene band and with their bass player additionally on producer duties there remained an organic and wholesome sense of construction to proceedings.

“The Shining Hour” opens proceedings like a sunny Sunday morning.  A kind of skiffle accompanies swinging vocals that arrive as a celebration to entry.  In the mere conceit of there being such a time, such an hour, the band taps into an element of my being that I want to join them in championing.  Quite frankly I’ve always found this track empowering and ever since have carried with me the idea of there being a shining hour; a moment when all is good and all is accomplishable.  This is existence’s saving grace.

It is without this a collection of great songs.  The hooks held within “Wish You Well” and the appropriately titled “The Hook” display a large dose of savvy and consummate execution.

When the album arrives at “Stars n’ Stripes” a new height is furrowed as a haunting and goosebump inducing tangled web is unleashing on the listener which perfectly captures an intimate moment of challenge ending in a mantra refrain of “got you on my Handycam, sits in my hand” which is a ridiculous line made amazing.  By the end of the track Phillips’ vocals drift off into Jeff Buckley.  A curious link that later feels echoed by the existence of a track entitled “Grace”.

Elsewhere the band shows it is capable of rocky workouts on both “Jupiter And Teardrop” and then “America Snoring”, with the latter being appropriately condemning of its times.  This band could indeed be a lurching powerhouse if it so desired.

Further joy is to be found in the piano swing of “Dixie Drug Store” with its carefree swagger and general execution that sounds a lot like World Party and manages to make a person (me) remain feeling young in spirit if not body.

In almost every example the first track that people will have heard from this album was the title track “Fuzzy”.  In itself this is a huge slab of work, the centrepiece of the record.  Seldom has such considered pain ever been committed to vinyl, certainly in the modern era.  It’s a song with a mixed message, with many layers that is much open to interpretation.  You could listen to this song all day and be none the wiser with regards to the writers state of mind but you will definitely know where you personally stand within the piece.  I’ll defend this song to my dying days.

Listened to know almost fifteen years after its release unlike many albums of the era this record still holds up, still resonates.  I would not hesitate a second to recommend this to anyone I gave a damn about.  This is a special sound from a special time.

Thesaurus moment: wisdom.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

BUFF MEDWAYS – FIRE (DAMAGED GOODS)


BUFF MEDWAYS – FIRE (DAMAGED GOODS)

Occasionally you will annoyingly miss a song upon released when really you should be savvy enough to know of its existence due, if nothing else, to a knowledge and familiarity of the author in question.  It slays me to concede that I have only just discovered this record.  Even more worrying is that I once saw the Buff Medways supporting Mudhoney and it is quite possible that they may have performed this song that evening.

The song in question “Fire” is indeed a cover of the Hendrix classic and as to be expected with any group that Billy Childish leads the version is very raw and in a classic garage style.

For those that might consider Childish’s playing to be basic and one dimensional here is a prime example of just how that perception is so flawed.  In taking on “Fire” the band choose to take their sound from the garage to the wilds and an outdoor plane.  This is a big song that demands a big sound and displays a whirlwind of fury whenever anyone attempts.  At the risk of sounding a fool, in many ways this version improves on the Hendrix original bringing a punk edge to proceedings and a new meaning with it.

On the reverse is another Hendrix cover in the form of “Manic Depression”.  The first time I ever heard this song was watching David Addison in Moonlighting smash up his company car.  As a result for me it has always been a song of high temper and emotion.  And the version here is no less extraordinary as Childish appropriates voice to suitable frustration as the band lurches through a highly energised version of the song executing more treble than feedback.  It’s a no brainer that Childish selected this song.

The Buff Medways be a band more versatile outfit than mass reputation allow.

Thesaurus moment: experienced.

Friday, 25 January 2008

LIVING COLOUR – LOVE REARS ITS UGLY HEAD (CBS RECORDS)


LIVING COLOUR – LOVE REARS ITS UGLY HEAD (CBS RECORDS)

Living Colour was a band that at one stage I really liked.  With a slight tweak/change of sound, they managed to get their piece/bite of the alt rock movement of the nineties.  However those gestures were not quite evident when they released “Love Rears Its Ugly Head”.

“Love Rears Its Ugly Head” is a definite tough sell with its cod reggae chops and mainstream rock power chords with seemingly wet sentiments, it is the kind of stuff that you would expect Lenny Kravitz to churn out and be rather proud of.  And from an alternative nation perspective, that is not a good thing.

Despite all these elements I still have time for the song.  Sure the message is soppy and the funk rock weak but there is still enough in its being to enjoy, appreciate and justify its flow.  Am I writing this on a soft day?

Ultimately Living Colour were a safe band, the sort of proposition a person could indulge without fear of excessive mockery or contest because they ticked more than enough alternative boxes.  And dare I say despite my aggressive and edgy leanings, I actually dig/dug this song and what it extracts.

Lyrically it does send out mixed messages of which my original interpretation was of falling hard but with time it has started to sound more of a tale about being under the thumb.  Why isn’t his other half complaining when he comes home late?

This single version of the track was the “Soul Power Mix” which contains a more dub baseline along with Roddy Bottum-esqe atmospherics.  These were definitely confusing times for/in rock.

There is nothing I can of to add to your reaction to this song.  A guilty pleasure that’s not that bad.

Thesaurus moment: submission.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

GOVERNMENT ISSUE – LEGLESS BULL (DISCHORD)


GOVERNMENT ISSUE – LEGLESS BULL (DISCHORD)

This is my all time favourite hardcore record.  It was the fifth record released by Dischord back in 1981 and was one of their famous ten song seven inch singles.  There is no fat on this record; it is all pure energy and raw drive.  Like most hardcore as a result it is brief and thus never outstays its welcome.

Ferocious from the start Government Issue were able to muster a guitar sound their peers did not accomplish.  And this accompanied by the frenzied drumming perfectly set a frame for the crazed poetic shouting of John Stabb.  It sounds like all the band members are participating in the most violent contest.

The first track is “Religious Ripoff” that immediately highlights a fizzy and effective guitar sound that the other bands on Dischord of the time did not match.  The hooks are crashing and huge and even though the vocals and indecipherable, the song title tells everything you need to know.

From here the band takes further, clear aim at the annoying aspects around, sneering with sarcasm as they point accusatory fingers at frauds who are just “Fashionite” and individuals posing out with “Rock n Roll Bullshit” before declaring that “Anarchy Is Dead”.  In many ways this feels a band with a mixed agenda, in many ways condemning others of being just like them.

“Asshole” is an incredible song, again displaying/using/demonstrating their unique (to this scene) guitar sound and making a huge declaration by screaming, “I’m an asshole, look at me” in the chorus.  Did this band fucking like anybody?  Thankfully they were fond of hooks.

A song such as “Bored To Death” blows away the cobwebs and expounds (slightly explains) the mindset of hardcore and how it came about.  This is a point reiterated by the intense frustration of “No Rights”.

Honestly, I will always take this record over the Teen Idles and Minor Threat releases of the time.  It is one of the most tiring records in history to listen to.  Then in a flurry it is done.  I feel energised and cleansed.

Shame it didn’t last.

Thesaurus moment: blast.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

TONY HANCOCK – HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BLOOD DONOR (PYE)


TONY HANCOCK – HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BLOOD DONOR (PYE)

Tony Hancock is one of my heroes.  His blind faith in himself is not bumbling, it is courageous, it’s the device he used to overcome his flaws and win at life.  Of course where Hancock the character ended and Hancock the man began is a real grey area.  History has shown us as an individual he was incredibly insecure within himself as his great talent came coupled with visceral flaws.

The Blood Donor is probably what he is best known for.  It certainly is home to some of his most memorable lines and most oafish behaviour.  The pomposity attached to Hancock’s delivery is impossible to dislike and find offence in.  He is a harmless fool.

This is an interesting seven inch that breaks the episode into four scenes/sections beginning with his exchange with a young June Whitfield.  Their interaction is incredible as Hancock responds in the worst and wittiest manner imaginable as Whitfield the nurse takes his misguided details.  The themes are timeless and thus fifty years later the work still feels fresh.

Now accepted for giving blood he moves onto a class comparing conversation with Frank Thornton as he soughts congratulation.  As ever for Hancock though it blows up in his face as he finds himself exchanging blows with a person that effortlessly emerges as a superior.

As the record turns over so does Hancock as he briefly hesitates his decision to give blood before engaging with the Scottish doctor.  With this comes one of his greatest misunderstandings and greatest passages culminating in the famous line “a pint, well that’s very nearly an armful”.  The bit still packs a fantastic punch.

Hancock finally wins as he discovers he possesses a very special blood type from an exclusive blood group.  The petty glee that he expresses is the sort of small victory that will often happen to us all.  This is the fabric that made him such a champion for the average man.

Finally the episode ends with Hancock back at how retaining his miniscule pomposity by checking the eventual destination of his blood.  It is really that important to him that he knows.  Then coming full circle he has an accident (a domestic knife wound) and winds receiving his own blood via transfusion.  It is a conclusion you would not find out of place in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

What a gift.

Thesaurus moment: sovereign.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

FUGAZI – STEADY DIET OF NOTHING (DISCHORD)


FUGAZI – STEADY DIET OF NOTHING (DISCHORD)

The second full-length studio album from Fugazi is a staunch gesture of maturity following the popular but somewhat straightforward Repeater.  Having now seemingly taken stock of where things were at and where things were heading, a fresh new approach was now on the agenda.

Steady Diet Of Nothing feels carved out of granite.  More so than ever the guitars are blunt, dense packages of sound that were impossible to disrupt and break.  Before their relationship with their instruments was good but now it was great.

The tone of the album is generally bleak beginning with that downbeat title through to the dark tones of the cover art exhibiting a disillusion stare into space.

It all begins with the sound of harnessed distortion sculpted into something akin to a swarm of bees.  As the volume increases so does the menace as the bass of Joe Lally drops in to push things forward.  This is “Exit Only” which spins the mantra and repeat of “exeunt” prescribing their mission in code from the off.  These are not just words, this is a sermon.

Without missing a beat the record immediately segues into “Reclamation” and a set of ringing, noodling guitars that Sonic Youth in their prime would be hard pushed to accomplish.  Then once again the rhythm section enters the song stepping in like a giant crushing a village before it all calms down and Mackaye announces “here are our demands” as Lally and Canty drive the song across a bridge until all hell breaks out again.  This is a song about personal freedom.

This is their most overtly political album addressing issues on both local and national levels.  The most explicit example of this is the reference to William J. Brennan in “Dear Justice Letter” and its aggressive plead.

The prickly “Nice New Outfit” offers a wide range of uncomfortable sentiments while I swear/maintain existing as the song the White Stripes took from wholesale when they came up with “Blue Orchid”.  This is not a song aimed at Wall Street.

“America is just a word but I used it”.

A procession remains as the stop/start motion of “Stacks” makes for an awkward listen while instrumental track “Steady Diet” is pure cacophony as Fugazi’s guitar screams as never before.  At times this section of the album feels a tad clunky, not least on the broken hymn setup of “Long Division”.  However it all serves a purpose as the record closes in blistering form.

When “Runaway Return” picks up the slack it does so with almost orchestral sounding guitar.  Then as Guy reels off an ashtray analogy an eventual surge takes hold as the song soars in resignation as the vocalist fully submits to the conceit.

Then Steady Diet Of Nothing reaches its huge culmination as stand out track of the album “Dear Justice Letter” arrives like a firing tank with a most direct message from Picciotto which soon prompts response from Mackaye as all around them the drilling sound of the band in full flow rocks the boat scratching the fret until taking various sharp turns at the chorus as Guy pushes on unflinching and defiant.  And then with that message delivered “KYEO” arrives like a get away car and guitars that sound like sirens as Mackaye takes over the role of giving warning (“but silence is a dangerous sound”).

“We will not be beaten down”.

With its earthy gritty vibe and texture, Steady Diet Of Nothing is probably the most underrated work in the Fugazi cannon.  Here is a collection of tracks that audibly display a band growing and maturing.  If only other hardcore acts had the humility.

Thesaurus moment: mettlesome.

Friday, 18 January 2008

NIRVANA – BLEACH (TUPELO)


NIRVANA – BLEACH (TUPELO)

I first bought this album on cassette after heading up to Colchester from Little Clacton to see Wayne’s World 2 at the cinema during the school holidays in 1992. I had already dropped hook, line and sinker for Nevermind and now my friends were telling me that Nirvana had another album out. I accused them of being fucking liars. Then they told me to look in the indie section of Andy’s Records. This was an indie record? I thought it was heavy metal. And I thought indie music was what came from India as some kind of incoming Bollywood-esqe assault on the pop charts fuelled by the purchasing power of right on student and rich types. I was so wrong.

By this stage I was still to own a CD player so instead I picked up the cassette which appeared to have a photocopied cover. Back in the day people actually used to shoplift cassette and CD sleeves, very often Guns N’ Roses and other similar such metal outfits. The Bleach cassette inlay was not a photocopy though; it was just a grubby black and white photograph. This was a record released on Tupelo as opposed to Geffen which was a label I had never heard of. Once I became a bit savvier a few months later I learned about Sub Pop and then the licensing deal that saw the German chancer’s cash in. To an extent.

Bleach is a fantastic record. On the surface it is much different to Nevermind but when Cobain chimes out vocal hook after hook it is undeniably the same band. Even without realising that sludgy is a technical term for a guitar sound I immediately knew the notion. This was definitely not Nevermind but in many ways it was better.

On this particular version of the album “Love Buzz” was conspicuous by its absence on the tracklisting. Instead at track five was now “Big Cheese” which meant that the album now closed on “Sifting” as “Downer” was also missing from the release.

As ever the record opens its store with “Blew” and the band playing at their most detuned and sludgy. At the time I still had aspirations of being able to play guitar and this was the Nirvana song I thought I might actually be able to learn. I was wrong.

Following came “Floyd The Barber” with its stop start pounding slabs of agony. Being an era where everyone gave up on their appearance and generally had tatty hair it served as an anthem to celebrate avoiding getting my haircut. I hated my barber at the time anyway, his shop was full of naked pictures cut from newspapers and around this time I had a very nasty experience in the shop when a couple of locals mercilessly ripped the piss out of me for the duration of my visit. These were people that it seemed Kurt was rallying against. In similar fashion the apparent whine of “School” served as a visceral blast against the daily agony that was education at a very poor comprehensive school on the coast of Essex that was run by terrible people at both staff and student level.

I never really liked “About A Girl” too much. Everyone seemed to think it sounded like The Beatles and possessed the real pop hooks on the album but for me it just disrupted the flow of the sludge that was streaming into and empowering my existence. Occasionally I let my mask slip and applied it to some kind of scenario where a girl I liked might actually give me the time of day but ultimately it was just wet.

The cassette ends with “Paper Cuts” which was another defiant and choppy track I thought I might be able to play myself. When people compared Helmet to Nirvana this was probably the song that they were thinking of as somehow Kurt managed to make his guitar scream like an animal, sounding like an elephant in flow. I had never heard a band create a guitar sound such as this before. And seldom did Kurt’s voice ever sound so twisted and creepy.

Side two begins with “Negative Creep” which always tasted good coupled with my paranoid and nihilistic demeanour. I once said to friends that if I ever wrote a book or fanzine that I would called it “Negative Creep” because it just felt like the perfect cap. In the end I didn’t, leaving the song to remain untainted by me as it. Who could keep up with such ferocity anyway?

Solidly digging into the second half of the album for me tracks such as “Scoff” and “Swap Meet” possessed the kind of memorable memories that would eventually shoot the band to greatness as the hook filled rock charges were laden with teasing repetition in the words that at times sounded like nonsense but carried the perfect pop sensibility in their syllables. The songs always seem to wind up at some kind of resignation as the chorus sounded appeared the voice of sense against the scatological verses. “Swap Meet” in particular plays on the rugged relationship dynamic and when it reaches the height of keeping various items “close to the heart” the chunky rhythms along the way almost sound sitcom.

Something else that always struck me with these records was the standard of drumming. I have to say I heard no fault in Chad Channing as he served as a powerful engine for the band on the record. Indeed on the closer “Sifting” I always felt he starred.

For some reason I always coupled “Sifting” with “School”. Maybe it was in the disillusion of the songs apparent defiant sentiments. Then again an opening line of “afraid to grade ordinary people” is fairly academic. As the song chugs along the rattle of Channing’s drumming gave a kind of twisted “I Wanna Be Your Dog” dynamic to proceedings and when the song would peak in its chorus it was the hi-hats of the drums that would signal was attaining perfection. Sounding like a song where the principle was being degraded and belittled by the education system a retort of “don’t have nothing for you” was a blissful message for a nihilistic child.

Fifteen years later I still love this record, indeed I feel less embarrassment in listening to this than I do Nevermind and indeed parts of In Utero. I still don’t hear anything like this coming out of anywhere.

I could talk forever.

Party on!

Thesaurus moment: instant.

Nirvana
Tupelo

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – INTO MY ARMS (MUTE)


NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – INTO MY ARMS (MUTE)

Running heavy on restrained emotion this was a Nick Cave arrangement unlike any other. Arriving as the first single from the new Bad Seeds’ record The Boatman’s Call this song displayed a brand new level of maturity in composition as a sparse and minimal execution laid path for an extraordinary exhuming of emotion from Cave declaring a degree of understanding and empathy that would not ordinarily have been expected from such a raging faucet of a front man.

This was the song that Cave played at the funeral of Michael Hutchence and refused to have filmed, perhaps fearful that it might become a young person’s equivalent of “Candle In The Wind”. The gesture/request would display/suggest the weight and importance that the song holds for Cave.

With a first line that goes “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” this is serious as Cave rides solo behind the piano save for a bassline from Martyn Casey, the only other Bad Seed featured on this record.

In many ways I feel with this song Cave manages to capture on record just what it feels like to be in love, to hold an ultimate affection for one person and to have ever desire fulfilled and feel content in the knowledge that it holds a definite meaning.

This is how life works out sometimes.

Thesaurus moment: hold.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Mute

Friday, 11 January 2008

TOMAHAWK – ANONYMOUS (IPECAC RECORDINGS)


TOMAHAWK – ANONYMOUS (IPECAC RECORDINGS)

Returning from his stint as/with Peeping Tom, here Mike Patton reconvenes his masterful lineup and literal supergroup. I was under the impression that Tomahawk was one of the more conventional (good) acts Mike Patton has been involved with since beginning Ipecac but this album would suggest otherwise it would seem.

You do feel cheated after historically Tomahawk tracks such as “God Hates A Coward” have been as close Patton has come to sounding like Faith No More on any of his new projects and with the Peeping Tom record being a real return to form, for me much was expected from this record.

Unfortunately the title Tomahawk appears to have been taken too literally as what has been served appears to be some kind of alt rock marching album built around the concept of war. And not even a modern war by the sounds of it! Maybe it was even recorded in an Anderson shelter.

Major gripes aside, despite not being a party record it is fairly atmospheric and almost cinematic in its motion. There is no disputing that Patton has one of the greatest voices of the modern rock age and that is probably the main recurring theme on this record as everything aside feels like something of a border or frame for the centre piece that are his vocals (and not necessarily his lyrics). It is a dark and brooding sounding record, one that is always going to be tough to listen to if you are not currently of such a mindset.

Ultimately frustrating to the point a person has to concede defeat, tracks such as “Red Fox” and “Totem” lend some much appreciated blasts of energy and coherence, the remainder of the album is overwhelmed and bogged down with obstinate behaviour, commendable on one level but not for a group coming from such a grand legacy of mind-blowing output.

One last listen just reveals some kind of sick lounge record of indulgence and experimentation. There was no fanfare in the theme of Tales Of The Unexpected.

Still, I might grow to love it.

Thesaurus moment: deflate.

Tomahawk
Ipecac Recordings

Thursday, 10 January 2008

VERUCA SALT – SEETHER (MINTY FRESH/HI-RISE RECORDS)


VERUCA SALT – SEETHER (MINTY FRESH/HI-RISE RECORDS)

Veruca Salt came along when the grunge era was on its knees.  Britpop was now bedding in and knocking aside most things American.  And now all of us appreciated it, clinging onto what few threads remained of the great music of our youths from only a few years earlier.  As a result bands like Veruca Salt actually briefly represented some kind of hope for a certain type of music fan.  It was a false dawn.

I think the intention of Veruca Salt was to cash in on Riot Grrrl and use the alternative nation of the mid nineties.  With hindsight it feels like an effort targeted at a remaining gap in the market.  Ultimately I doubt things were that cynical but the band does not sit well in the history of indie rock.

Rather than sounding like Hole or L7, the results were more akin to a mix of The Breeders and Juliana Hatfield, which in many ways remains preferable.

As I dig out my copy of this single it is caked in dust which is a pretty decent metaphor for the sound held within.

“Seether” feels very much of its time.  Its not that it hasn’t aged well, it just sounds somewhat na├»ve and eager to please when placed against so much cynicism both past and present, which is in strange contrast considering this is a band many would have considered to be chasing the money having not yet earned their stripes.  They really did not help their case with the opening “meow”.  Later it does house a fine hook but by now most of the audience has been lost.

The second track “Straight” does move in a Hole-esqe direction both musically and in sentiment and succeeds where perhaps the lead song does not.  And finally the flighty “She’s A Brain” closes proceedings in a somewhat more optimistic than welcome manner.  They just weren’t convincing.  A Winger of grunge.

That said I can appreciate a band that squeezes three tracks into just over eight minutes.

Thesaurus moment: contrived.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

SONIC YOUTH – SISTER (BLAST FIRST)


SONIC YOUTH – SISTER (BLAST FIRST)

These are great songs, greater than the sound of their recording.  Sister was the first pre-punk broke Sonic Youth album that I clicked with.  I take this over Daydream Nation nine times out of ten.  Now if only the drums didn’t sound like they were made using a breadbin.  But apparently that sound is “warm and vintage”.

Recorded at Sear Sound in New York this was a studio long past its heyday now reduced to producing jingles and soundtracks to softcore horror movies being made by the owners.  Steve Shelley would later express dissatisfaction at the drum sound but everything else felt perfectly suited to the band and its vision at the time.  The equipment on offer (old school tube amplifiers etc) was pornography to such guitar terrorists.

There is a playing against the elements feel to this record.  The imagination reconciles its creation with inhabiting some awful areas of New York, places caked in pure grime.  This image is probably quite removed from reality but with its cut and paste artwork and a weird fascination with science there is something strangely urban and menacing about the package.  And then there is the declaration that the Sister in question is suffering from “Schizophrenia” which brings a degree of menace and mental illness along with threat and maybe even murder.

Sister is scrappy goodness.  Very lo-fi and very cheap the proof is inside the pudding.  Ugly guitars that might otherwise put off rock heads carpets crazed energy and creative abandon.

Released on SST in the U.S. their fourth studio album actually saw them move closer towards traditional song structure and away from the avant exploration of their No Wave origins.  It is a loose concept album partly inspired by Philip K. Dick, not least in being named after his fraternal twin that died shortly after her birth.  Indeed entire sentences from the man’s are subtly lifted and inserted into lyric lines.  In addition to this there is a nod to James Ellroy in the thank yous.

Excitingly Sister holds the first examples of/in Sonic Youth’s career where noise became noise pop, especially on tracks such as “White Kross” and “(I Got A) Catholic Block” which serve with charge and arrive at extraordinary hooks.

Despite the apparent change in operation there is no compromise on show.  “(I Got A) Catholic Block” is in particular a very positive example of this serving as a fizzy screamer that ends in a wicked flow of feedback going places where no one knows.

I have now briefly lost interest in reviewing this record, leaving my writing desk to rummage around on the internet.  In my movement I did not switch the record and as I attempt to escape this duty a dense, cradled distortion follows me into the other rooms of the apartment.

Elsewhere “Tuff Gnarl” offers a relatively upbeat motion with a sound that Mike Watt would later be heard describing as “bubblegum”.

The “seven at the beginning of “Stereo Sanctity” came from studio engineer Bill Titus insisting that the band announce the number of each take before a track was recorded.  The man’s old school methods would clash with their experimental sensibilities not least when he told the band that they needed to tune their instruments.

Songs such as “Pipeline/Kill Time” and “Pacific Coast Highway” offer narrative prose and horror scenarios smeared over tracks that veer from frenetic gestures to drawn out moments of sonic bridges swirling in centre sections.  The latter is particularly jarring sounding like a scratchy, unfinished “Death Valley ‘69” before drifting off in the middle flexing a counterfeit calm.

Away from the distorted blasts there are tender moments and slow motions in “Beauty Lies In The Eye” and “Kotton Krown” both of which feature Kim Gordon vocals as Thurston joins her in duet on the latter.  As “Kotton Krown” drifts off in a wave of feedback it glistens at a steady pace in a way that guitars had never sounded before.  Meanwhile the slow broken conversation of “Beauty Lies In The Eye” eventually sees Kim calling out to kool thing at the close.  That reference was always in her.

Then there is the fun cover of “Hot Wire My Heart” by Crime offered as both solidification of their punk credentials and an affection nod to originators they love.  It is actually a great song with the classic kind of hook that makes you feel you familiar the first time you hear it.

Often described as the album’s afterbirth the messy “Master-Dik” closes the record.  Starring the Royal Tuff Titty (Thurston’s rap persona) its bratty and obnoxious, the sound of a disciplined man cutting loose.  Basically it sounds like a Beck song before Beck was born.  It’s the best brash satire on cock rock an angry nation could ever want.  Eventually it ends with a sample of Gene Simmons singing “I know”.  Did he know?

Discarded and rejected album titles apparently included Sol-Fuc, Kitty Magic and Humpy Pumpy.

Listen to this loud.

Thesaurus moment: sibling.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

VARIOUS – THE BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD EXPERIENCE (GEFFEN)


VARIOUS – THE BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD EXPERIENCE (GEFFEN)

Back in late 1993 this was an undignified return of Nirvana to record.  Kurt was still around (just about) and he hardly appeared to have much in common with Beavis and Butthead, indeed in many ways they were the audience Cobain appeared fearful of appealing to.  However the sad reality was this compilation shared a label with the band and thus strings were shorter to pull.

With the benefit of hindsight to include “I Hate Myself And Want To Die” on a cheap and nasty album like this feels painfully crass.  The title of the track (and almost their final album) was not so much a cry for help, more a painful reality that nobody really took seriously.  What a fucking situation.

It begins with crowd cheering then the cartoon pair making guitar noises before said Nirvana off cut drops in all during the course of the first CD track.  And a Nirvana off cut always tended to be of ten times the value of most bands.  Sounding straight off In Utero it has trademark Albini drums and a gnarly guitar snarl.  It made the album worth buying to me.

Then reality kicks in as Anthrax follow first conversing with Beavis and Butthead in an excruciating manner before delivering a naff and pointless cover of “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” by the Beastie Boys.  The pair was always more Headbangers Ball than 120 Minutes.

By this stage the joke has already worn wafer thin ahead of appearances by big hitters such as Aerosmith, Run DMC, Megadeth and White Zombie.  That said the Megadeth contribution “99 Ways To Die” isn’t bad (thanks to a decent hook) even if Dave Mustaine does sound like Beavis on it.

Things turn wacky was Primus, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Jackyl chip in with the expected contributions, although for a while I did find myself partial to the term of “Mental Masturbation” as used by the latter.

At the eleventh hour the Red Hot Chili Peppers manage to storm proceedings with a spot on cover version of “Search And Destroy”, a take faithful and ballsy enough to held up to The Stooges’ original.  For this collection though, its too little too late to up the overall stakes.

Then it all ends with the abortion that was their “duet” with Cher and their version of “I’ve Got You Babe” complete with dig at Sonny Bono.  It’s a fucking mess, as was most of the album.  Time has not been kind.

Never buy into nostalgia.

Thesaurus moment: morbid.

Friday, 4 January 2008

JOHN COLTRANE – A LOVE SUPREME (IMPULSE! RECORDS)


JOHN COLTRANE – A LOVE SUPREME (IMPULSE! RECORDS)

This is a record that has had books written about it so realistically from a critical stance there really isn’t much that I can bring to the table other than personal emotion and recollection.

If ever people bemoan the sound that is jazz (as they invariably do), I will always spring to defence of the art form using records such as A Love Supreme as a prime example of the power and beauty that the music can hold.  Sure there is shitty jazz music but there is shitty music in absolutely every genre.  Some genres even have more than their fair share/entitlement of dross.  I won’t deny that jazz will often be cheesy or noisily indulgent but equally there can be no doubting the passion of a record such as this.  Coltrane was looking and aiming for some kind of ascended spiritual plane and was going to tell us how to join him.  With A Love Supreme he pretty much achieved it.

There is a distinct warmth attached to this record.  Indeed the opening bars of “Acknowledgement” never fails to derive the kind of goosebump reaction that little other music achieves.  The bass of Jimmy Garrison is audibly saying “a love supreme” prior to Coltrane dropping in and flying away with the composition (the movement).  The man literally soars in his playing and effectively manages to take the listener with him.  This is the sound of a most passionate time imaginable.

When the track comes to a climax seven minutes later a vocal chant of “a love supreme” grips proceedings and drives home the intention of the work, delivers its message hard and clear.  It does not get much cooler than this.

John Coltrane was a gift from God.  His motions were those of a preacher and peace followed him into his work.  His work was done at his pace and the audience would be wise to adapt.  The words force, sincerity and drive were all attached to his music in one flow.  Those and earnest.

With the tone now established, the album swings into wonder with “Resolution”.  As Coltrane plays like he is having a personal conversation the band explodes around him until Garrison runs through with another lead baseline and McCoy Tyner takes over seemingly responding to Coltrane’s compassion.  Within his playing Tyner appears to be speaking to himself, offering his call and response via slick trickery.  Then just as the tune reaches the top of the mountain tenor sax swoops back in and regains a stronghold on proceedings and everything is indeed resolved.  By the close the track comes full circle and the soaring strands of Coltrane’s entry once again sends the song high into the stratosphere.

The fourth member of the quartet was Elvin Jones who’s pummelling beats offer a magnificent manner of worship conjuring what feels an affecting storm that plays out in the background serving to hold things together and maintain the listener’s attention while the front players relay their message.

With this in mind it is quite fitting that “Pursuance” opens with a drum solo and deserved centre stage for a most valuable player.  Then Coltrane drops in a sense of freedom grips the moment, grips the motion as a frenzied exploration takes hold and McCoy Tyner returns to the fore.  As ever the leader holds back before choosing the right time to return and storm the composition by which point a crazed pulse of playing has taken hold and everyone is performing at breakneck speed and a legendary intensity.  You could pursue harder.

Listened to as an indie rock fan by this stage this work is sounding like Tortoise to me.  This is punk in its purest form.  The playing is tight and hard and of a higher, deeper meaning and level.  This goes beyond music, becoming a most personal form of expression and art.

As “Pursuance” dissolves into a few measured moments from Garrison, the record finally closes “Psalm” and the final thoughts of Coltrane.  It rears into life with a subtle rumble and the playing of saxophone as if it were speaking words.  The peaceful closing to proceedings remains one of a yearning, of a tangible sensation and the offering of a gift to above.  The naked conclusion glistens offering an emotion similar to that of a sunset and the passing of a day (the passing of time).  It sounds anxious in delivery but comforting in existence.  What more could you want?

Then with one final thunder rumble it is done.  A masterpiece made and a world enhanced.

I wish I could remember first buying this album.  Where I got it from and how I felt.  At what age was I blessed and where was my existence at the time.  Sometimes with music you buy into things too much but with A Love Supreme you cannot buy it enough.

Thesaurus moment: nirvana.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

SUICIDE – SUICIDE (RED STAR RECORDS/BLAST FIRST)


SUICIDE – SUICIDE (RED STAR RECORDS/BLAST FIRST)

This is an exercise into belligerence, into making the listener invest contempt into the art it is purchasing.  This is the kind of music you put on to torture friends with, to clear the room at a party or to have rough sex to.

Recorded and released in 1977 Suicide were painfully ahead of their time, bucking the trends of the moment as their sonic onslaught felt a violent betrayal to the audience of punks that stood and gawped at them spewing aggression from the stage.  This is some kind of journey into hell where the intensity is such that you can only crack and laugh in order to make it through the entire record.

When reviewing the history of music there are few duos as punchy and accomplished as Alan Vega and Martin Rev.  There’s was the kind of connection an artist can only dream of finding in a partnership.  The trust and respect between them is obvious.  They were both taking risks in full knowledge they had each other’s back.

The album begins with “Ghost Rider” and a suffering onslaught addressing what is going on in their home nation.  This was music born of the grittiest times in modern America and in specific New York where freedom was long an illusion and suffocation be king.

There is plenty to take from this record.  The vocal style of Vega alone is incredibly unique as it fluctuates from whisper to menacing at the turn of a hat.  Then complimenting his work is Rev powering up a soup of stark repetition with his startling synth.  This is the noise created by the worst production line.

“Cheree” sounds almost church like in its delivery, like the worst kind of practitioner and minister.  Religion is dumb and evil, especially when it comes with such intent and menace.  As Rev twinkles like the Silver Apples, Vega sounds desperate in the most demented manner.  You don’t want to be “Cheree”.

The creepiness continues with “Girl” has more advances made towards some unlucky lady as another sticky scenario is played out.  Not recommended as make out music to play in the background.

The centre piece of the record is the ten minutes plus of “Frankie Teardrop” which offers a clear narrative and tale of a struggling soul becoming a disturbed soul.  As harsh as it tastes it is a very tragic song that in some ways actually makes me think of “Frank’s Wild Years” by Tom Waits.  As the electronic pulse refuses to relent it induces something of a migraine in the listener as Teardrop through Vega sets about exterminating his world and eventually life.  This is where the blood on the cover comes from.  The screams are so audible in this hell that it asks a lot of the listener to actually remain with the song until the end, the bitter end.  And that in itself is always an accomplishment.

Not long after this “Cheree” returns for a second time and now it feels slightly more upbeat even if remaining desperate and dirty.  This is the sound of persistent and blind optimism.  These are sentiments I’m not convinced are going to be reciprocated.

After a difficult and miserable time (experience), the album ends on a relatively upbeat manner with “Keep Your Dreams”.  Suddenly the words are light and positive and so is Rev’s backing that now comes with a pleasant piano line and less oppressive beats.  What suddenly went so well for them at the eleventh hour?  Regardless, salute the happy ending.

My old work colleague Stevo used to think Suicide was the band that got onstage and committed suicide.  Now where would be the career in that?  After years of working their way up, that would be the climax?  They would not be around to sample the fruits of their labour.  And certainly no one would ever book them again.

At the end of the day an act carrying the name Suicide is/was never going to be a barrel of laughs and to be honest what you get is what you deserve with this record.  As a gesture of attrition it wins on so many levels.  As a pleasant experience it resounding fails.  As a source of entertainment also it fails.  As a record to torment your friends and enemies with it works.

Approach with caution.

Thesaurus moment: deleterious.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

SOUNDGARDEN – OUTSHINED (A&M RECORDS)


SOUNDGARDEN – OUTSHINED (A&M RECORDS)

“Outshined” does not necessarily spring to mind when you think of great Soundgarden songs or indeed their tracks worthy of being singles.  In fact it’s something of a slog, tasting like a bulldozer stuck in the mud.  Who made this decision?

That said this is my favourite era of Soundgarden.  On the cusp of fully going overground the songs from/on Batmotorfinger are lengthy, measured pieces of work that see the band in anything but a hurry.  They know what’s coming and it’s going to be kept on their terms.

From that perspective “Outshined” perfectly fits such a mindset and criteria.  It’s a song bathed in apprehension and any necessary recovery.  It is not the sound of an outfit enjoying themselves.  However by the time Cornell is questioning “who gets mystified?” the resolution is pointing towards something almost calm.  Indeed, the lyrics are nonsense.

If I’m being honest I do not really like this song.  Its slow, it’s overblown and it’s lumbering.  The apparent sentiments of the track are what often made grunge wide open to mockery.  And on top of that there are two versions of the track on this CD single (“Edit” and “LP Version”).

On this occasion perhaps more interesting are the b-sides that were taken from a BBC session.  “I Can’t Give You Anything” is a Ramones cover that sees Cornell sounding like Mark Arm while “Homicidal Suicidal” is a meandering cover of a Budgie song that all gets very denim and does not sound a million miles away from earlier Soundgarden songs such as “Louder Than Love” and “Nothing To Say”.  Is this them revealing their sources or are they stamping their mark on the metal that came before them?

Releasing their song as a single stunted their growth.

Thesaurus moment: blip.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

ANGELO BADALAMENTI – BLUE VELVET ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (VARESE SARABANDE)


ANGELO BADALAMENTI – BLUE VELVET ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (VARESE SARABANDE)

Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch have always been something of a match made in heaven.  Here are two individuals very much in sync with their art.  The emotions they form with their expressions are mirror like.  One could survive without the other and still conjure a similar response from the listener or viewer but combined together the impact is massive and huge.

If you have never seen Blue Velvet you have truly missed out.  It is a terrifying small town experience of the seedy underbelly that inhabits the suburbs of everywhere and anywhere you live.  It is also about innocence lost and how curiosity killed the cat.  It is also timeless and serves to work across the board.  The viewer is subjected to a rollercoaster ride of the worst aspects of reality but are thrilled and compelled to indulge in the small scale horror.  Such story traits are those of what becomes legend.  It stings but then again so does life.

Enhancing the images on screen comes Badalamenti’s orchestration.  Throughout it is slow, menacing and brooding.  At the moments when the film is thrown into blackness, the strings of these pieces serve to enhance the dark and lace them with discomfort.  Equally when participants remain frozen and silent the punishing din acts as a pulse for the piece and shuddering danger (sometimes death) that is being suggested.

The piece “Frank” closes with some cheeky slash gestures, a distinct recollection and probable homage to the master Hermann and his Psycho score.  The worlds in this movie and that are not necessarily completely removed.

It is late Friday night now and still I am listening to this record.  Outside it is dark and inside it’s not much better.  These times are ageless.  This age is timeless.  To buy into this album has been to buy into beauty.

Then comes “Lumberton U.S.A.” a weird and horrific sound collision jingle “sound effects suite” that tastes explicitly like something later to come with Twin Peaks.  In other words an audio track most Lynchian.  Similarly the lush lounge groove of “Akron Meets The Blues” recalls something likely to inhabit Laura Palmer’s hometown.

Towards the end of the album the orchestration and score songs give way to the vocal tracks from the movie.  Of these it is “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison that conjures up the most spinechilling of recollections.  There was always something about that man which was not quite right.

Finally it all comes to a conclusion with Julee Cruise delivering “Mysteries Of Love”.  And if film history has taught us nothing else, it is that bad things happen when the vocal skills of this lady are around.  It is a very dreamy way to close things.

Over the years David Lynch has displayed time and time again just how important it is to get the correct score in your movie, how powerful the results can be and just how consistently amazing the people he works with are.  The soundtrack to Blue Velvet is no exception, it’s a huge piece of work.

Thesaurus moment: expansive.