November 2009

13th Floor Elevators: Live in a Dive

With so much time and energy spent recounting the weirdness that is all of Roky Erickson, the fact that the 13th Floor Elevators – apart from those caterwauling vocals – were a tight ‘60s combo is occasionally glossed over. They weren’t the Beatles or the Stones. Or even the Kinks. But the Elevators in its prime was capable of reaching those heights. Of course, liberally smattered across its discography are covers of those aforementioned Brit bands, but when the Austin based group trucked in its own work, the results were pretty entertaining and somehow don’t seem dated at all.

Dark Meat: A Psych Trajectory from Jazz to Skronk

Being modest hasn’t ever been a problem that writers have dealt with. Armed with self confidence as evidence by thinking that what gets scribbled down is worthy enough to take other’s time up for perusal is ostentatious enough. But proclaiming something new and incredible is a rock writer’s perpetual joy. It’s a double edged sword, though. Discovering something that one finds unique and amazing one moment doesn’t necessarily mean that later on that same thing won’t be dull in comparison to something else. That’s not always the case, but it is some of the time.

The Music Explosion or A Little Pop

One of the best tracks off of the first Nuggets compilation is “Little Black Egg” as rendered by the Nighcrawlers. During the ‘60s the song would be revisited by a few different groups and later by Cleveland punkers the Pagans. But before the Music Explosion jumped to stardom with “Little Bit o’ Soul,” the Ohio band reworked the Nightcrawlers track. Unfortunately, that track wasn’t on the group’s album, otherwise folks wouldn’t have had to wait for the reissue to hear the song after its initial release.

Six Organs of Admittance: Luminous Night (Drag City, 2009)

The folk resurgence that begin softly in the ‘90s and mixed with whatever weirdo rock bands that were kicking around to result in the ground swell of ensembles copping the style eventually included Ben Chasny and Six Organs of Admittance. After having kicked around for over a decade, Chasny’s relocated to the northwest and released another album of intimate, guitar based music. It’s not his crowning achievement, but it works pretty well to expand an already enormous and bizarre discography.

Robedoor: Only Obnoxious Some of the Time

I really can’t stand all the winding, wordy descriptions that the assumed enlightened wrench out while discussing drone releases and or new psych stuff. It’s all ostentatious and long winded. Yeah, I used a few shined up turds to describe those other writers, but there’s really nothing worse than a ten word string of adjectives to describe sound. Obnoxious. Unfortunately, that’s just how it goes. The stoned glue huffers and cough syrup drinkers that make up the ‘scene’ – whatever that actually means – are gonna do as they please. The rest of us can either eat it and listen to the discs, tapes and records that come out, hoping for something good, or read the tripe that passes as commentary to inform us. It’s not as big a sham as I’ve just made it out to be.

The Last: A Minor LA Pop Explosion

The power pop scene that cropped up in LA during the late ‘70s and persisted through the middle of the following decade developed alongside a reemergence of ‘60s psych. The intertwined interests of groups in either genre served to cross pollinate bands with ideas that might not have occurred to either adherent. It can’t be said that there was a huge commercial aspect to this all – even if there could and should have been.

The End: A Missed Psych

The End have been doomed by time – in a few different ways. Firstly, the band, despite it’s stewardship by manager and producer Bill Wyman didn’t really lend the group too much of a boost. That being said, touring with the Rolling Stones should have had the ability to make any group stars, just not the End. Secondly, the ensemble and its lone long player – the 1969 released Introspection – sat around for just about a year prior to its release. And while that time from ’68 to ’69 shouldn’t have counted for too much, during the period the end of the idyllic ‘60s was signaled in a wash of violence that spread out across the States and in turn focused international attention on the youth culture.

Fuck Buttons: A Sound Clash

Fuck Buttons are a pretty decent example of a group being able to function in this new world of media that wouldn’t have necessarily gotten off the ground way back when in the ‘90s. The problematic name that the duo - Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power – chose for their group just couldn’t get that ole traditional press to bite. There’d be asterisks left and right: that’d simply be a poor design aesthetic.

That being said, even the music that Hung and Power create isn’t really radio ready. Over its first full length, dating from last year, Fuck Buttons assembled enough disparaging noise as to make almost anyone stick a finger in their ear. That doesn’t mean the disc was bad – and in fact Street Horrrsing not only made those year end best of lists, but mine specifically.

Real Estate Gets Bargaining

Figuring out which came first Real Estate of Ducktails doesn’t really make a difference. It shouldn’t change the way in which a body hears the music of either of those ensembles/performers. But it is interesting to come upon one only to discover the other at a later date and hear Matthew Mondanile’s guitar crop up in both. He’s not the new guitar wielding, rock saving star that the industry might need, but having crafted a style that’s his own goes a long way to explaining why both acts that he contributes to (or constitutes) are so consistent.

Twofer :: Afro-Funk Compilations

Entrenched in academia as I currently am, the situation allows me to hear random thoughts of the supposed enlightened. A professor, who I respect to no end, in referring to art said something to the effect of “Africa’s in right now.” It was a comment made in less than a glowing tone of voice, but not intended to denigrate the continent. Of course, the fact that this woman is an adherent to all things Motown and RnB, her perspective seemed amusing. But she’s not wrong.

Over the last decade, there have been countless compilations issued the serve to explain a country’s music, culture or political awareness. And for the most part, each of those discs is pretty good, if not funky fantastic. That being said, I stumbled upon the two discs below relatively recently and neither has left the ole rotation in just about a week. That’s an endorsement.

Ghana Special Modern Highlife (Afro-Sounds and Ghanaian Blue)
(Soundway, 2009)

As one might guess, this here platter focuses on the sounds of Ghana, a West African nation with a sizable coastline meeting the Atlantic. These are sounds rife with funk and polyrhythmic stuffs that one would generally associate with afro-pop of various varieties. With that understood, The Barbecues’ “Ohiani Sua Efir” comes off as some deep funk track. Its vocals, obviously give it away as some imported piece of finery, but in that very fact, the Barbecues seem to be able to interpret American sounds and turn ‘em around to suit its needs.

There’s still some material here that sounds a bit dated due simply to the instruments that were available at the times of these recordings. Vis-à-vis’ “Obi Agye Me Dofo” remains a stone cold funkster of an offering, but that keyboard line sound's primed for a sci-fi adventure. Regardless of the intermittent reminders of technology, Ghana Special Modern Highlife needs to be considered alongside offerings like the World Psychedelic Classics discs in its ability to cull amazing and would-be lost tracks.

Loop vs. (the Myth of) The Soundscape

If I have to read the word ‘soundscape’ in another review or piece of writing that relates to Loop – or any other fuzzed up, ‘80s Brit rock act – I’m going to have a serious freak out. Come on folks. There’re better descriptors to make use of when explaining what a music sounds like. The only time that I’ve ever found and such lame combination (and no, not a ‘mash-up,’ you dunce) is when Jonathan Richman sings about the “Astral Plane.” And the only reason that it’s passable in that particular instance is because, Richman was pretty much untouchable until the late ‘70s. He didn’t slip up and make a throw away disc. Much the same sentiment could be levied on Loop.

The UP Gets High

There’s a lot to say about rock and roll from Detroit. Generally, the line goes something like, that’s where proto-punk hails. No, that doesn’t seem off base. And considering that John Cale produced the Stooges disc and the MC5 were…well, the MC5 those that dispute the fact are gonna be fighting an up hill battle. And while all of that seems only vaguely important at this late date, there were a huge clutch of groups performing in and around Detroit  and Ann Arbor.

Marble Sheep: JRock and Psych

The name Marble Sheep doesn’t reverberate too much in the States. And really, I dunno if it’s all that important of a moniker to folks anywhere. One should assume, though, that in its native Japan, Marble Sheep are something of an underground stalwart having been on the scene during three different decades. But even if that wasn’t the case, the fact that head sheep herder Ken Matsutani founded and runs Captain Trip Records should keep the name in the mind of intrepid psych fanatics.

Los Speakers: A Columbian Psych

Psych spanned the globe during the ‘60s. Some of the groups from outside of the States and Britain were a bit late in coming to the stoned soul party, but everyone eventually caught on. There’s been much made about the Brazilian scene of the time, but other countries down there in America del Sur had just as much going on.

Columbia – while still probably best known for coffee and narcotics – was host to a few groups during the decade that would take up the mantle of psych purveyors. The stifling political and economic climate didn’t make for an all too hospitable place, but a few acts were able to reel off successful discs.

Raven: Ohio's Blues

I like alota things about Ohio. The terrain – in parts – is pretty beautiful. Granted, there aren’t mountains, per se, but in the south eastern portion of the state, it gets kinda hilly. There’re a buncha rivers, most notably, the Ohio, which eventually empties into the Mississippi River. But the cities that Ohio sports have as much cultural history and relevance as anywhere else in the nation. I’m biased, having lived there for twenty-whatever years, but really it’s not as horrible as everyone makes it out to be.

Daughters of the Sun: Reverberations

In mentioning the Chicago group Disappears today, it made me think a bit more about Daughters of the Sun, who I’d been hesitant to write up until now. Disappears, though, move around in the seedy underbelly of stuff that could become pop if any concerted effort were made. The hooks are there and the chiming guitar during “Hearing Things” would do nothing but ingratiate the band to rock enthusiasts the world over.

Regardless of that fact, what does Disappears have to do with Daughters of the Sun? Nothing too much actually. Whereas the Chicago band is indebted to the likes of Spacemen 3 and its cohort, Daughters of the Sun are much more of an obtuse act, the one unifying commonality being reverb – both bands rely upon it almost to a fault.

Twofer: Paul Armfield and the Four Good Reasons and The Melvins

Paul Armfield and the Four Good Reasons
(Groove Attack, 2005)

Before we even get things started, this release is boring, but in a very soothing and reassuring manner (that should make sense).The band is tight, the lyrics are well thought out and written, but there’s just nothing there. Paul Armfield works in a book store and is probably a pretty solemn guy on a day to day basis. Even at shows, I’d imagine the guy and The Four Good Reasons (his band), put on an exercise in blatantly planned musics with a rather bland tone of voice. Without question though, if you like Van Morrison (minus any sort of intensity), then go and pick up this disc. There’s nothing flashy here, just sad songs created and produced in an authentic and almost urgent way.