March 2011

Bolt Thrower: The Difference Between War and Battle

Bolt Thrower seems to be important for the time it was formed as opposed to the spate of releases it issued over the band’s decade and change of existence. Metal and its even more dour exponent wrapped in the adjective black, as if that was needed, don’t general center on the UK as source of the music, apart from Black Sabbath. That group, though, dates back to the late sixties and a town called Birmingham. Maybe Coventry, Bolt Thrower’s home town, and its proximity to Sabbath’s initial base has something to do with this all.

Rockadrome: Acid in Canada

Apparently, the folks comprising Rockadrome were session players up there in the frozen north. The scenario behind this group and its lone long player – 1969’s Royal American 20th Century Blues – makes sense then. The playing, for the most part, edges towards adept if not inspired. And by such a late date, the band’s brand of psych cum pop song construction should have been dispensed to just about anyone even attempting to be an edgy rock group. So, that all’s the reason why Rockadrome’s disc sounds like it was recorded in ’66 or ’67. Or maybe it was just the fact that they were Canadians. Who knows?

Considering the band functioned as a quartet and doesn’t list a keyboard player in the album’s liner notes, being session players probably provided for each performer being able to play at least two instruments. Probably, though, the band should have found someone to right an authentically original tune.

“Royal American 20th Century Blues” is basically a Kinks rip off with a bit of heavy organ dousing the entire thing. Well, either that or Rockadrome aping the Stones’ stance on Satanic Majesty’s Request. Or both. There’s a far greater Brit influence here than anything American. And the relative dismissal of rootsy fair again points to the band’s being a few years behind everything. The tuneful key solos make up for that a bit.

Achim Reichel: Back with More Machines

The kraut excavation turned up a spate of winners and just as many self indulgent, horrible pieces of trash. But for the most part, Achim Reichel doesn’t wind up being mentioned even after people stop fawning over Klaus Schulze and his ilk. Regardless of his being ignored, Reichel turned in a handful of amazing, mostly self-recorded and produced, albums dating back to the early seventies. Each disc has its own personality, but there’s a shamanic Eastern thing cropping up, if not consistently, than overtly across his works. What’s more impressive, though, is the fact that the huge expanses of guitar and electronic backing for all his work eschews a proper drum set. Sure, percussion instruments crop up at one time or another and on occasion, there’s set getting pummeled, but that’s an exception as opposed to a rule.

Drums do play apart in Reichel’s “Tarzan's Abenteuer I'm Sommerschlussverkauf,” from his AR3 recording back in 1972. The album actually ranks as the first time the band leader would fully integrate the instrument into a wealth of his compositions. The song, though, doesn’t even hint, so much as fully assaults rhythm with a basic kit getting reamed while that guitar chinks away at the bass’ main figure and a sax bleats its own ideas atop it all. If this was the only cut ever released by Reichel, it’d still give Can and its ilk a go for best representing kraut stuffs.

Yesterday's Children: Croces in Connecticut

Connecticut isn’t known for its wealth of musical contributions to the Western World. That’s not slated to change even as Mr. Magic should soon be getting his due as a rap purveyor of the highest quality. Back in the sixties and seventies, though, the state just north of New York spit out a handful of acceptable, if not overly creative, rock and psych acts. Yesterday’s Children might be one of the more transcendent, but that’s relative. NGC-4594 may well have been a more subtle and talented band, weaving country and folk music into its take on the psych stuff then so popular. But Yesterday’s Children were a harbinger of things to come, not a group of dudes looking back and wondering whether it’d be alright to wear cowboy hats.

The group, as helmed by singer Denis Croce, took an aggressive stance towards rock stuff. A handful of early singles were apparently a bit more sixties’ garage psych, but by the time collected players got around to recording its eponymous long player, there didn’t seem to be much difference between these folks and Led Zeppelin or whoever else you care to toss in there. Of course, even those bloated Brits had their moments. But after eschewing the blues and embracing fifteen minute songs it was all a ways.

The Futura Label: Mahogany Brain

Not drastically different in its tenor from Fille Qui Mousse, Mahogany Brain still wasn’t the traditional Futura label ensemble. Of course, an imprint dealing in utterly improvised music can’t be said to have a sound it relies on, but most acts leading further towards jazz than rock. Mahogany Brain embraced the guitar, but was fronted by some poetic Frenchy named Michel Bulteau, which might account for some of the group’s most obscure moments. Either way, though, the ensemble’s two albums rank as decent examples of non-musical music, if you catch my drift.

Mahogany Brain doesn’t truck in songs, per se, so much as vibes. And yeah, that sounds like hippie detritus, but it’s true. Only releasing two albums over the course of its career, the band sounds like it actually progressed between the 1970 With (Junk-Saucepan) When (Spoon-Trigger) and 77’s follow up Smooth Sick Lights. On its first album, the Brain just noodles around and bangs its instruments with little care for rhythmic connections. And seeing as there’s no sort of melody to hold onto, that becomes a problem. There’s actually not an offering that sticks out of With (Junk-Saucepan) When (Spoon-Trigger), demanding a hearty reexamination. But that only makes Smoth Sick Lights’ stronger moments more engaging.

Polyfeen: Boiling Down Prog, Psych and Boring Rock Stuffs

Quick, name a band from Denmark. Can’t? Me neither. Not really. Well, Polyfeen. And even if I’d be able to tell you cursory things, like whose in the band and when they were a functioning unit, I wouldn’t be able to understand what their one album’s called or what they’re talking about during those eight minute extended pieces. Prog? Who knows. So, let’s take Langt Ude i Skoven, a live set track by track, shall we?

Merrell Fankhauser: From Bounty to Bust

In the annuls of rock and or roll, there are figures who don’t rank as indispensible, but seemed to have been the weird connective tissue, holding stuff together, just showing up and playing music that wasn’t necessarily the vanguard, but pretty close.

Merrell Fankhauser isn’t a famous guy. Sure, he’s recorded with at least four ensembles – the Exiles, Fapardokly, the H.M.S. Bounty and Mu – folks still hunt down work by. But if you’ll notice, none of them are exactly horribly famous. Starting out in California during the early sixties, though, allowed for the guitarist and songwriter to randomly associate with a wealth of players, a few of which would end up recording with Captain Beefheart – that alone should point to the guy’s talent, despite his relative obscurity.

The first band Fankhauser issued a substantial amount of work with, the Exiles, isn’t really required listening. Most of their Wild In The Desert (1964-66) compilation is average beat combo stuff. It’s not uninspired, but the radio must have been choked by middle of the road groups aping roughly the same sound. Let’s skip over Fapardokly for the time being and head to the H.M.S. Bounty, seeing as the earlier group ranked as a faux-super group.

The Strokes are Still Bullshit

It should be commonly accepted that 2001’s Is This It? ranks as one of the better long players from the new millennium’s first decade. It’s also, easily, one of the stronger first albums issued by a rock band since God knows when. Of course, at least half of everything the band’s recorded since then stinks. So, that initial success might not really count at all.

The Strokes, whether successful or not critically, are going to continue to move units and experiment with a wealth of musical stances regardless of what everyone else thinks. That’s what they should do – stasis is a motherfucker. And if that band had simply remade that first record over and over again, no one would be listening anymore. Angels, though, is a ridiculous amalgam of approaches, none executed too well.

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: A Monster's Coming

Fully understanding the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at this late date’s a bit difficult. Today, combining a wealth of stylistically diverse tunes on an album, drawing from folk melodies as much as island sounds, isn’t the biggest shock. In the sixties, it must have been. Gratned, the Bonzos probably aren’t set to issue a spate of reissues and find a brand new, younger audience. The band’s still weird, even by today’s standards. But its music seems as impenetrable as anything else. They’re that weird – kinda like if Sesame Street had a band, but they were all subversive types, inculcating youth’s minds with fanciful stories, never openly referencing a deviant lifestyle, just hinting at it by their collective, freewheelin’ style.

Quick aside: You know where Death Cab for Cutie got it’s name? No, Gorilla, the Bonzo’s 1967 album, has a song of the same name. Weird, right?

Anyway, the ensemble, Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall’s brainchild, cropped up just in time to be Frank Zappa and Mothers British foil. The similarities are there in each set of players, both appropriating various musical styles to make some sort of comedic cultural comment. Zappa comes off as a bit hippier and musically advanced, but that’s simply by virtue of his embrace of sixties’ psych tropes. The Bonzos couldn’t be bothered with then current musical ideas, eschewing rock for the most part and sounding more like a wayfaring jug band than anything else.

Paris 1942: Mo and the Girls

Mo Tucker now and forever will be best remembered as the chick standing up and pounding away at scattershot drum set behind the Velvet Underground. Of course, that band really didn’t last too long. But the brief six or seven year period the Velvets recorded and toured forty something years back remains one of the most fruitful periods in American rock stuffs.

After that band ended – or carried on too long with the Yule’s becoming its main voice – Tucker hightailed it outta town and wound up in Arizona of all places. There may well have been better places to go, but settling out there in the desert, Tucker accidentally wound up in a place that would soon spawn not just the Meat Puppets, but the less lauded, but no less talented Sun City Girls.

With all those guys kicking around, Tucker running into them was pretty much pre-ordained. And while she’d turned to more domestic concerns as opposed to a continued fixation on rock and or roll, Tucker would eventually record an album with Alan Bishop – Sir Richard may or may not have contributed to the disc. Listening to the guitar lead on “Paw,” though sounds like a pretty strong suggestion he did.

Liquorball vs. Monoshock: Psych vs. Song

It really sucks when folks remain adherents to a band simply because they heard it earlier than a similar ensemble, which winds up being unquestionably better.

I recently turned a dude onto Monoshock, an East-Bay harbinger of early millennial sludge and psych. After taking a listen – something we should all do – the guy figured out the band featured a guy named Grady Runyan, the same guy from Liquorball. This latter band, I’d never heard of. Well, latter isn’t the right word. The band actually formed prior to Monoshock and has released way more albums than the better known group – and done so more recently.

While the two ensembles share a bit in common, there’re just as many things separating the groups. Monoshock, perhaps the heavier of the bands in its own way, isn’t short on improvised sections. The group does have nine minute songs after all. But they’re still songs. And it doesn’t seem that Liquorball ever had any intention of writing catchy tunes, which is fine. But after listening to one side of just about any release from that group, it seems like enough.

The Haunted Blow My Little Mind To Bits

The general consensus seems to be that the Haunted were remarkable for being an English language band in the heavily Frenched out Canadian city of Montreal. Seems like an easy way to be remembered and one that has little to do with music, covered or original. And of course, since the band wasn’t too much more than a sixties’ styled rave up ensemble, seated near by to the Stones at the Beggar’s Banquet, I suppose it could have been worse.

What’s surprising about the Haunted, though, is the fact that the band was able to toss off a pretty wide swath of rock stances. It’s not all garage styled rockers like the troupe’s best known song “1-2-5.” There’re actually two versions of the song kicking around – both included on The Haunted – one with the band’s original singer and the admittedly more professional latter edition with some other guy on the mic. There’s nothing smooth about either version, but the original rendition is perhaps a bit more engaging thanks simply to the fact that the singer appears to be as displeased with being forced to sing into a mic as kids are pissed about detention. The uncaring attitude aside, “1-2-5” is a pretty traditional garage track.

Beach Fossils: The One-Millionth White Guy in Brooklyn

Honestly, what kind of vapid truck-bed hopping dullard names a band Beach Fossils in 2009/10 and records in the same kind of three chord, bum-rock, faux-pained artist vein as everyone else? The sort of “career” posturing it takes to pull that one off alone warrants investigation. Of course, Beach Fossils and its main appropriator Dustin Payseur make a convincing argument for taking what was once a quaint and personal way to make music, running it into the group for gain and pretending to be artists while press releases mumble nonsense about Anthony Braxton being an influence. Surely, Payseur owns a disc or two by the Mills College affiliated performer. But citing him as an aural reference point seems like more bullshit. But independent culture’s a commodity like everything else and everyone wants a piece. I get mine from writing gibberish.

Captured Tracks, despite taking on its fair share of non-thinkers – toss Dum Dum Girls fashion focused take on being fake rock stars and wait for their major label release – maintains a ridiculously high rate of success. So, for all my griping, the self titled 2010 long player from Beach Fossils doesn’t really sport a bummer moment. The fact that all the songs are basically the same doesn’t hurt. It might be easy to pass this off as release from the Woods camp, but that wouldn’t matter either.

Brainbombs: There's a Better Place to Start

There’s a weird line drawn in the proverbial sand. Fans – and those fans who turn to writing about music they enjoy and obsess over – are all for the raucous, debauched ideal of rock as well as roll while it’s not negatively impacting their lives. But if G.G. Allin took a dump on anyone’s floor, fan or not, that home owner would be pissed. Just probably not pissed enough to get rid of his amassed collection of live G.G. records.

Brainbombs, Sweden’s answer to the Mentors (?), haven’t made the same sort of international name for themselves as G.G. – but who else gets on televised talk shows like the auld days. Either way, these Swedes might honestly rank as the most atrocious bunch of scum to have released music, Charlie Manson included. At least that guy didn’t sing about rape. Maybe at least isn’t the right way to frame it.

Whether or not Brainbombs are the same away from their instruments as they are playing a set remains to be seen – by me. But even if these guys are as awful as “Fuckmurder” suggests, that doesn’t remove the music’s virility. And regardless of whether or not Brainbombs mean it all, it should just be a good joke to anyone listening – but a good joke accompanied by some churning, good music.

Hiiragi Fukuda: Guitar Noodles, the Good Kind

I really enjoy reading various reviews on a single release and finding the same phrase repeated over and over again – clearly from some press material. For whatever reason, Hiiragi Fukada’s music has been dubbed ‘Psychedelic folk-pop.’ Yeah, that’s three separate genre’s being smashed together to describe a guy’s entire career, so even if the combination was totally sensible, it still wouldn’t represent the Fukada’s music at all. There are certainly elements of all those things spread out over the duration of My Turntable Is Slow as released through Sloow Tapes. The release is actually sold out at this point, but between my description here and its obvious location at better mp3 blogs, there’s no reason to miss out.