September 2010

Exuma: From Grandeur to Just Grandiose

Exuma should have been famous – in another universe, that is.

Hailing from the islands and landing in the middle of New Yawk’s sixties’ folk scene granted Exuma a springboard for stardom. Granted, he wasn’t Richie Havens. Nor should have been. The combination of various folk strains and odd imagery, though, served as a strong backing for a gentleman with an even stronger voice – one with a surprising range.

Exuma’s earliest discs showcase his background more than anything he’d picked up along the way, gigging in clubs. It’s in those most interesting constructions of voodoo and Stateside love that his legacy, though ailing, is based.

Ron House: TJ Slave Apartments, Great Plains and Other Works You Haven't Heard Yet (Part Two)

By the time the nineties showed up and House was growing tired with Great Plains, which we’ll get to in a moment, the songwriter continued to spread out. But instead of working in exactly the same made – a few efforts from each of his previous groups could have easily been snuck onto a single disc and passed off as a unified effort – he decided to regress, to a certain extent, and explore some of his punkier leanings. Of course, the cohort joining House on any given project had a bit to do with the resultant effect. But regardless of that, the nineties, even with American Recordings eventually ditching House’s highest profile act, was a time of pretty fertile creativity.

The Action as Mighty Baby: Brit Rock and Prog

Yes, Mighty Baby is probably one of the worst band names ever levied on the general listening public. Despite that, or because of it, the group isn’t as lackluster as it might seem upon a cursory glance. This isn’t the great, lost Brit psych album you were hoping for, but it’ alright. And the story behind the bad is not just amusing, but traces the Anglo obsession with music from other cultures that defined its charts during the sixties and seventies.

The People Band: Free Improv and Elephants

By the late sixties, just about every faction of the music making community had gotten an earful of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Each of those jazzbos and their interrelated experiments in improvisation effected not just the genre they worked in, but moved out into the rock stratosphere and covered all of Europe.

That’s not meant to intimate the People Band were a rock ensemble – or even the earliest proponents of free, group improve in England. But the group was made up of a bunch of white guys in England. And that’s fascinating.

TWFR:The Beatings x The Clergy

The Beatings

Holding on to Hand Grenades

(Midriff Records, 2006)

Formed in Boston in the late 90’s, The Beatings have released a number of records on their own, Midriff Records.  What this band has learned is that when making music one of the most difficult achievements is to fill all of the space during a song.  Not just length, but density of noise.  This is why they yell.  There is singing on this slab, both from a man and a woman, but when the gentlemen screams, the band shifts into early eighties SST mode and fills all of the space.  Each track, without question, exemplifies a very impressive aspect of the band, but at the same time there is something that detracts from the over-all quality.  That something is left over space.  The rest of this album, most of it, suffers from over-thinking.  Each track ends up lasting too long; even SST bands knew when to stop.  Also, in the press release, the band is referred to as “art-rock with noisy embellishments”, which makes me automatically dislike your band.  And while The Beatings do occasionally pull off a few moments that recall Mission of Burma, by and large this release doesn’t stand out when compared to contemporary or past acts.  That’s alright though, this band controls its own destiny in the fact that they run their own label and have the ability to create a niche and an audience.  They almost have it, but not on this slab.

Uzeda: Italy by Way of Chicago

Steve Albini, not too long ago, reconvened Big Black at the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary party in Chicago and made some grand statement about the ‘80s being better than whatever happens to be going on now. I can’t tell if that’s blatant old man nostalgia that’s kicked in or not, but I also can’t understand what he’s so crabby about considering he’s worked on what amounts to the most revered releases in underground rock in the last three decades. If nothing else, all he has to do is be Steve Albini and he succeeds. That’s a good deal. Maybe being chauffeured across the world to record Sicilian friends of his from the last decade doesn’t agree with him. Poor whiney genius.

Zs: If Ornette Coleman Ran a Band that Liked Gang of Four

Well, Planaria Records not longer functions as a proper label. And there’s virtually no information regarding the band in the liner notes. The label’s accompanying website simply names the six individuals that are responsible for this release.

Five years ago, when Zs first began recording, it wasn’t that the genre it sought to mine was unpopular, but the propulsive nature of the interwebs has served to make noisome groups more widely spread over the last few years. It shouldn’t be startling at this point, but the promulgation of weird stuff has been amped up dramatically due to all that digital chicanery.

The Zodiac: More Studio Musicians than You Can Name

The sixties may well be the reason why the record industry wound up being such a regulated monolith, crushing hopes and dreams along the way.

As the world was figuring out how to market youth culture – and basically exploit the desires of mankind in the marketplace – a number of people figured out that crafting a recording to closely mirror any burgeoning scene would result in a few dollars. That’s why the phrase ‘psych-ploitation’ came about (disagree on the spelling if you’d like). But in 1967 since the word and the concept of psychedelic hadn’t yet been turned into a commodity, the Zodiac might not count as such an endeavor.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: An Electroinc Appropriation

It would have been hard for World War II to stay out of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work. So, when he began composing an extended series of operas, the murder of his mother (a ‘useless eater’) making it into the work shouldn’t have been a tremendous shock.

Apart from that, though, there aren’t too many references to personal life in Stockhausen’s work – at least overt ones. Being left to his own devices after the end of the war, he immersed himself in various studies and edited a relatively well renowned music journal, critically examining the canon of classical music.

The More You Know: MP3 Blogs (An Update)

I wrote this piece up a ways back and figured enough time had passed as to warrant an update.

The interwebs are full of places to find MP3s. And as a service to you, dearest reader, I’ve tracked down a few of most unique spots. There’s no such thing as a site that pleases everyone. But the seven sites listed below should serve most of your (weird) musical tastes. If not, stick around. There’s bound to be another update sooner or later.

As a side, if there’s someplace you feel has been neglected, feel free to drop a URL in the comments section. The innertubes should be a community of people sharing things, not just taking.

Juaneco Y Su Combo: Amazonian Wave

As with most of the new crop of ethno-related reissues clogging record stores today, Juaneco y Su Combo was found by an American, although of French extraction, while on vacation in Peru.

Olivier Conan, of Barbés Records, was bumming around Peru and happened upon a tape vendor. A Juaneco y Su Combo release was picked up. And the rest is the voyage of getting the music cleaned up, transferred and into your ear holes.

Ray Mirijanian: A Neglected Armenian Oud and Clarinet

Lumping every music from the Middle East into a single category doesn’t work for a number of reasons. First, it’s probably kinda difficult to define where the Middle East begins and ends. Second, borders as we know them know are all a relatively new thing. And really, if you head out far enough into whatever nether-regions of any country that’s largely comprised of dessert or mountainous regions, there’s a tremendous chance that you’ll run into folks within the boarders of one nation that are a part of a culture distinct from the national one.

So apart from the geopolitical stuff, song structures, melodies and song books are pretty freely exchanged despite border and culture. Of course, instruments might be native to a certain general area, but it’s safe to guess that some variant on them exists in other, near by cultures.

A Black Widow Confusion: Some Early Satanic Hard Rock, Metal and Prog

Nothing in life’s a hundred percent. I think a weatherman told me that at one point. Or maybe it was a commentator on weathermen. Something about knowing which way the wind blows.

Whatever it was, writing about music is kind of the same thing, apart from the fact that if you misstate facts, no one winds up being rained on. There might be a person or two showing up at a venue mis-dressed, but that’s life.

Les Maledictus Sound: Another Jean-Pierre Massiera Production

This can be taken either as a compliment or a criticism. Les Maledictus Sound could have only come out of the sixties. There’s no way that a group might function in this manner at any other time; concerning itself with so many drastically different modes of expression. Of course, one might simplify the whole thing and just settle on the fact that Les Maledictus Sound was conceived as some sort of score for a movie not as of yet made. But that would be reductive.

The unruly mélange of sounds found on this Jean Pierre Massiera produced album was still rendered in the studio by a single group of people – yeah, they were assembled for the sole purpose of recording this disc. But that doesn’t change things at all.

Ejwuusl Wessahqqan: Pronounce That

The fact that this band – whose name I dare you to pronounce – figured it didn’t have a shot at a contract and decided to record some jams down in the dungeon speaks to how awful the proper record industry has been for the last forty years.

Any reading on Ejwuusl Wessahqqan usually makes mention of Amon Düül II as part of a larger cohort. That may or may not be true. But EW doesn’t bear too many similarities to that better known ensemble. While the improvisational nature between the ensembles might be thought of as a connective tissue or the heavier moments each group eventually landed on as a result of exploring random musical ideas, EW turned in a single, self titled disc on par with just about anything found in the annuls of krauty history.