August 2009

Paleface into the Folk Fray

There are folks that just have songs dump out of ‘em, wind up on paper and are summarily turned into songs. Some people wind up with more songs and words to sing than their bands are able to grasp and find it necessary to go it alone. That’s not necessarily the case with Paleface – in fact it may have worked backwards. Gaining a modicum of notoriety during the early ‘90s afforded this one man act a slot on a major label for a time prior to being dismissed in the wake of other acts ostensibly working in the same vein. But subsequent to that, and apparently a close brush with liver failure, Paleface reconvened his musical activities, this time occasionally making use of more than just a guitar.


A lot of the bands initially associated with freeq folk (or whatever adjective you’d care to affix prior to the genre) have either disappeared, quit or just changed to the point where listeners might not recognize ‘em any longer. Akron/Family has perhaps been the most consistent, quality wise, while cranking out five discs in just about four years. That doesn’t mean that Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice is no longer valid – although James Jackson Toth has begun to tread on some slippery paths as of late – it does mean, though, that this group is the only one to have properly weather the storm. And no, I won’t consider Devandra Banhart a success. Posing for Vogue or whatever doesn’t mean that your music is any good.

Mick Farren x The Deviants

If somehow all of the people that Mick Farren performed with over time were congregated into one room, the resultant group would constitute the most incredible of ‘60s Brit Psych players…ever. There’s no doubt that the folks who came into contact with Farren went on to incredible things – Hawkwind being one of them. But even if that weren’t the case, the musical out put (and yes that’s disregarding the slew of writing that Farren’s done) of just this one man drastically affected the way in which Brit Psych worked and what it did. That’s not even hyperbole.

Nurses: A Backwards Perspective on...

I was getting a ride from a friend in Cleveland. She was chauffeuring me to the inimitable MegaBus for the six hour trek back to Chicago. It’s better and worse than it sounds. Regardless, as we headed down a main thorofare on the east side, the cd we were listening to got switched out. But before stating what got tossed in, it needs to be figured that while this chick/woman/girl is without question one of my closest friends, her taste in music is pretty questionable. Anyway, she tossed on Animal Collective. I was kinda surprised.

Fruit Bats

mmm... Fruit Bats... allow me to suckle the nectar of thy sweet new tunes. Thou art the joy of my easy listening, open breasted smiling afternoons, playing out your tender harmonies, soft and gay across the room. Eric D. Johnson, you are a total babe. I never really noticed until today, when I read that you will play The Crocodile this August 20, 2009 with Palmer Electric Co. formerly known as Palmer, AK.

For the last hour I have been grooving to your new album on Pitchfork and clicking around this great big internet, trying to understand... just what kind of person makes songs as great as these, and who is his band? (Graeme Gibson, Chris Sherman, Ron Lewis, Sam Wagster) They say you've been with Sub Pop for some time and that you moonlight in The Shins and Vetiver and now you've written a new album and it couldn't be more better-er.

Squarepusher: New Bass Stories

I really can’t explain why I haven’t seen a laudatory review of Solo Electric Bass 1 anywhere. I found it kinda hard to dislike. And since I’m not a huge fan of Squarpusher’s (b.k.a. Tom Jenkinson) other work, I would have guessed that there’d be all kinds of electro fans singing the praises of a dude who can twiddle knobs to various affect and actually play an instrument. And when I say, ‘play an instrument,’ I mean, ‘he wails.’ This is detached from the rest of the Squarepusher discography, but in that lays the album’s charm. This could have turned out pretty poorly, but thankfully it didn’t.

Small Faces/Faces: Psych and Rod the Mod

There’s always that back and forth about who was better: the Stones or the Beatles. And really, the answer to that nonsense is that it’s personal preference. While I can’t get down on the political schtick that the Beatles tried to hip folks to, some of their stuff easily beats out latter day releases from the Stones. Regardless of one’s choice in that absurd debate (second only to John Coltrane vs. Miles Davis) a band that gets forgotten amidst discussions like that are the Faces. Or Small Faces. Or both. Either one will due, although there is a stark difference each group was able to rank along side the best Brit Invasion groups in musicality if not popularity.

Steve Hillage: Ambient for the Sake Ambience

Ambient music is a slippery thing to grasp. At times, the genre seems to be a concoction of self absorbed knob twiddlers that have little else to do other than pick a note and make it twinkle for twenty minutes at a time while simultaneously attempting to bolster the piece’s artistic validity with any combination of theoretical double speak and historical antecedents. It just seems academic – and my neighbor in college used to listen to alota Enya, so there’s that as well. But where Steve Hillage finds himself involved, I tend to believe it to be entertaining to explore. While he might not be one of the most famous exponents of the Canterbury thing that happened during the ‘60s and ‘70s, his guitar found its way onto a great many records during the era.

Nirvana (Not that One) and the Concept Album

I don’t really like concept albums – well, I don’t particularly care for Tommy. I don’t know that I can readily name too many others. Bowie’s alright, but still kinda lame in a British kinda way. A group credited as being the first to recording a disc with a narrative arc, Nirvana, released The Story of Simon Simopath which isn’t really too offensive. Comprised primarily of the Irish singer/songwriter Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek guitarist Alex Spyropoulos, Nirvana convinced Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, to release this short spell of song-craft focused on the various attempts of Simon to fly. It’s interesting that Blackwell decided to release the disc.

Truman Peyote: Knobs, Computers, Dance

I kinda don’t know whether this even the appropriate place in which to post this write up. Truman Peyote  - and yea, that’s a damned clever name - owes relatively little to rock music in general. Instead, the electronics fly even while the group maintains some sort of grounding in traditional song craft – sometimes. When that four/four beat is thumping, the Boston based trio sounds just like an number of dancey electro bands, but the spacier moments are what makes the group’s first album Light-Lightning, released via the Whitehaus Family, a palatable affair. It’s not that Truman Peyote is all one thing or another on a track by track basis, but from the ten tracks here, it seems as if Jake Yuhas, Eric Farber and Caleb Johannes are able to stuff in a world of influence during the thirty minutes of music here.

Vulcan: Iowa Basements and the Psych that They Love

Obscurities have taken over the last few days of my listening. It ain’t a bad thing, but at the same time, the average unknowns aren’t really too much more than that two word description even if the album cover and various descriptions splattered all of the internets might make one believe otherwise. Vulcan (Lyle Steece), much like any self released ‘70s psych recording sounds something akin to terrific in any brief description. And it’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but the pervasive mentioning of Hendrix obfuscates any genuine description of the music here. The lone release from this Iowa band/one man show, Meet Your Ghost, clocks in more time under the banner of hard rock than anything that Hendrix was related to.

Songs of Faith and Inspiration: Psych Out

There’re alotta good compilations out there. If a disc doesn’t end up just being worthless, it can really attempt one of two things. There’s the possibility that any label is capable of collecting enough of a single off shoot of a music to have enough material to form the scaffolding of a decent compilation disc. The other entrance into good compilations would be through some sort of theoretical backing – like jazz bands that all had Latin percussion from the ‘50s. That’d be good one. Some one needs to get on that pronto. Anyway, when I came across Songs of Faith and Inspiration, which is billed as “‘60s and ‘70s heavy psych hymns for your sacred services, devotions, rituals and ceremonies,” I thought to my self, ‘Self, this looks too good to pass up.” It should have been, except for two problems.

Furekaaben's Folk via Denmark

Making music in a hippie commune can yield a variety of different results. If you’re Amon Düül (or Amon Düül II) you might be prone to some acid tinged psych workouts that make use of robotic timings and the like. That, of course, isn’t the rule, but the exception. It’s just as likely to concoct a clutch of folksy tunes while eating lentils and sitting cross legged on the floor. The latter possibility was what happened in Denmark as Furekaaben released a privately pressed disc in 1970 from the confines of their bucolic home. It’s not the height of music, but some of it’s more than ample considering the time and place from which it hails.

Mystic Siva: Stoned Teenagers

Amidst the collector’s list of things to own if only to own it, Mystic Siva’s first recording seems to rank pretty high. Coming from Detroit, the band - Al Tozzi (guitar), Dave Mascarin (drums, vocals), Marc Heckert (organ, vocals) and Art Thienel (bass, vocals) – sounded tied to its place on earth while not being and MC5 or a Stooges rip off band. It’s self titled debut, at this late date, fetches thousands of dollars in the market place. And while that price tag is ridiculous regardless of what record it’s affixed to, the middle of the road garage and psych that Mystic Siva gets into makes the devotion to its album seem all the more confusing.

Screaming Lord Sutch: The Idle Rich

Being kinda crazy is usually part and parcel of any musician’s resume. It’s not a requirement, but in looking back on the last forty years of popular music, the names that loom the largest seemed to possess more than just a bit of odd behavior. We’ll chalk it up to eccentricity – but crazy might just as well be used in a few cases. Regardless of what you call it, Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow (aka David Edward Sutch, bka Screaming Lord Sutch) had it in spades. Over his scattered discography there moments of lucidity that shine through, but most of that is obscured by the cloud of performance taking over life.

Fairfield Parlour: From Home to Home

Beginning in 1964 the Sidekicks were the early stages in the development of a group that would span roughly a decade and release four albums. Soon, the ensemble was re-christened the Key and then shortly after that again renamed Kaleidoscope when the quartet signed a record deal with Fontana in ’67. That’s alotta change to go through in just a three year period. And while there are a few recordings kicking around from the earliest period of the band, it was all a precursor to Fairfield Parlour, who in 1970 would release a disc entitled From Home to Home.

Vivian Stanshall: From Dog to Astronaut

Most of the Viv Stanshall’s past is kinda funny in one way or another. He’s not emerged from any horribly dangerous surroundings – although as a young child he endured the bombing of England at the hand of the Germans, which might point to why he and Keith Moon enjoyed dressing up as they did. Anyway, his name wasn’t initially Vivian.  Instead he was christened Victor Anthony Stanshall – only taking on Vivian later in life. And oddly enough, Vivian was initially the name his father was given, but abandoned eventually during adulthood.

Sopwith Camel: Cash-In (Pretendo) Psych

Fortunately or not Sopwith Camel – who’re completely unrelated to Camel – was prematurely lumped into the San Francisco psych category simply as a result of hailing from the Bay Area. Beyond its point of operation, Sopwith Camel really had more to do with the Flamin’ Groovies’ brand of throw back rock than the exploitative, engorged psych sounds that were swelling up during the mid ‘60s. Having formed at around the same time as every other group that would gain notoriety from the area, Sopwith Camel was actually the second group from the Bay to get a major label record deal – even beating out the Dead. If that wasn’t enough, the band also managed the first chart success from that San Fran cohort of groups. The 1966 single “Hello, Hello” somehow struck a chord with listeners and reached up into the mid-twenties of the charts.