April 2011

Spacemen 3: Live and Fighting

Trying to figure out who the best live rock band dating to the eighties seems like an insurmountable task. At the time everyone from Black Flag to early Nirvana line-ups were kicking around, not to mention the Clash were still around. England’s Spacemen 3 needs to be considered in this non-competition. The fact that its principal members are still hugely entertaining shouldn’t come to bear on the discussion, but is an interesting point.

Brainbombs Hate You

What’s actually amazing about Brainbombs – apart from how abrasive a rock band can actually be – is the fact that no member of the band has killed themselves. Yet. With such a tremendous amount of hate spewing forth from each and every song, it almost doesn’t make sense as to how or why these guys haven’t been involved in some sort of atrocious killings or general violence.

Morton Subotnick and the (Almost) Commercialization of Avant-Noise

Morton Subotnick and the players associated with the San Francisco Tape Music Center won’t ever be awarded the sort of fame they deserve. Without these folks, as much as John Cage, music’s avant garde would be dramatically different.

What distinguishes Subotnick from his peer group is that his Silver Apples of the Moon for Electronic Music Synthesizer was the first electronic composition commissioned by a major record label. Even if that wasn’t the case, though, Subotnick’s work here still seems to have functioned as the basis for which the Silver Apples, an electronic rock duo, worked up its truncated career

Charlemagne Palestine: Strumming Piano and Other Single Note Marvels

Pretty much every aspect of Charlemagne Palestine’s career is meant to confound Western audiences, its expectations about performance, intent and work. What is a proper piece of well wrought keyboard music? Palestine might know the answer. And maybe his recordings reveal the answer. But just as likely, the guy intends to be a difficult guy to be difficult.

Trained as a cantor – the dude who sings in temple – Palestine’s name is event intended to conjure up a batch of dissent. Kinda funny, though, huh? Either way, using ecstatic and ritualistic means as scaffolding for his compositions, the keyboardist and pianist was a contemporary of the West Coast avant-gardists from the Bay Area as well as LaMonte Young and his cohort. Wrapping himself in the spectacle of performace differentiated Palestine a bit from his peers in that costuming, while a part of the rock community, hadn’t transitioned to composers as of yet. Sure, Young’s Eternal gatherings most likely found players draped in black, all serious and austere. But Palestine looked like an acid casualty, all alone on stage working a few notes back and forth.

Best known for his Strumming Music, first released in 1974 and reissued a few times since, the composition actually has nothing to do with strumming and focuses on an acoustic piano. Granted, the title could reference anything from Cage’s work to prepared pianos. It’s just a bit nonspecific, but still confounding to listeners not privy to the secret history of America’s 20th century composed musics. The piece itself is the alternating of two notes back and forth after an intial introduction outlining the chords. Pacing picks up as the fifty-two minutes progress. But what makes Palestine something of an underrated genius is that he’d apparently rigged his instrument to slowly de-tune itself as the pace increased, creating dissonance where there should otherwise have been nothing but consonance. At first a bit grading to listen to, but progressively soothing, somehow, the work can eventually become background noise to pretty much any endeavor.

Kobaïa and the Magma Conundrum

Kobaïan? Good question. It’s a language created by Magma drummer Christian Vander and assigned to the fictitious story he constructed over his band’s first few albums. There’s a bit about escaping from Earth only to return and be chased off again. But that’s all nonsensical framing. And since we can’t understand the lyrics without a sheet of proper translation, it’s utterly moot.

We can hear music, though.

Loren Connors: Avant-Guitar

The road Loren Connors took to (limited, underground) success seems like the same sort of serpentine path anyone with creative talent is required to follow. Heading to college during the seventies, Connors moved from Connecticut to Cincinnati in order to take art classes. Regardless of his success in various mediums, he graduated and soon returned to his hometown. During the trek back and forth, Connors fiddled with guitar moving back and forth between improvisations and staid blues interpretations.

Tav Falco: Underground Hits

Hearing Tav Falco and his assorted Panther Burns (which at one point included Alex Chilton as well as James Luther Dickson) in 2011, it’d be difficult to decide exactly what era the band hails from. Sure, Falco’s vocals aren’t anywhere near pitched properly, nor is he a tremendous rhythmic talent – get a load of “Hey, High School Baby” for a ridiculous example. But his sneering half sung lyrics should point to the fact that he was a performer cropping up around the punk era who just happened to enjoy blues, country and hillbilly stuff as much as anything else.

Engaging John Cage

The force with which John Cage informed the second half of the twentieth century and its art makers is staggering. Granted, it’d be just as easy to dismiss the guy and his compositions as self-aggrandizing, academic work best suited to folks living on either coast. Just the same, though, Cage was able to conceive of some pretty heavy theories which wound up bearing on just about everything after 1955. Forget Pollack, this dude’s heavy.

Compiled: Atenshion! Refleshion! Spanish Psychedelic Grooves (1967-76)

What’s funny about the spate of new millennia compilations kicking around is that the title of each disc needs to be pointed at a specific demographic. And since most of the folks buying compilations – like all those Afro-Funk/Beat outings – are psych fans, all manner of marketing has been directed at them. Atenshion! Refleshion! Spanish Psychedelic Grooves (1967-76) isn’t utterly disconnected from the broad range of psychedlia. It’s just mostly funky, not rock based, making the tag something of a disputable moniker. There certainly weren’t this many horns on Nuggets.

Morly Grey: Krauty in Ohio

There’s a wealth of unknown music floating around out there with its players engaged in lame workaday nonsense. Every once in a while, a disc gets dug up and allows the folks who performed on it to radically change their lives. Good story, right? Well, that’s not what happened to the Morly Grey. But the band’s still pretty decent for a group that wasn’t able to amass a significant following during its heyday.

When was that heyday, you might wonder. Well, back during the tail end of the sixties when everyone realized all you needed to do to get hippie chicks was to affect some political nonsense and play rock music, a group of hicks in the wilds of Ohio went and worked up a pretty diverse range of music. Releasing it as The Only Truth, but releasing it to something like five people, didn’t do much for the band’s career. That being said, a second disc followed a few years later, but only served as a reminder as to why no one picked up on Morly Grey in the first place.

Abunai! Means, I Love You....

Finding a band trucking in exactly the same sort of musical territory as the jetsam floating around in one’s head is a powerful thing. Connecting with a group of players, even if you’ve never encountered them, works to bolster one’s own ideas regarding what rock can and should be. Granted, nothing’s perfect and change is a mother. But digging up Abunai!’s first album, dating back to 1997, ranks up there with hearing Wooden Wand – when he wasn’t just a folkster – perform with the Vanishing Voice.

The Vaccines are The Strokes if the Latter Didn't Suck

The Strokes might as well be dead. And while the underground isn’t short on bands sourcing similar material and coping just about the same attitude, there’s a commercial opportunity for anyone adept at writing short, pithy songs with a record collection comprising seminal NYC rock bands. The Vaccines, apparently, are relatively well known on the other side of the Atlantic. In the States, the band hasn’t broken. Yet. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility either. While songs like “If You Wanna” are pretty banal lyrically and “A Lack of Understanding” doesn’t do anything musically, the Vaccines still boast enough personality to make an impression here. Hell, people cared about the Libertines for a hot minute.

Tar and Its Singles

There’s really no way I would have stumbled onto Tar at this point. Granted, the trio was one of a buncha Chicago bands affiliated with the Am Rep stable dealing in rock cum punk and noisome disturbance. Surely, Tar’s albums come in somewhere around the midway point of Hüsker Dü and Pavement, but with less of a unique take on things.

White Pigs on Dope

There’s something to be said for the first few Corrosion of Conformity releases. And really, early Metallica wasn’t to awfully either. That doesn’t mean, it needs to be endlessly revisited, but you know. About the time as both of those acts were working in weird combinations of punk influenced metal and hardcore, there were scores of other crews wrangling the same base instincts, but rarely culminating in the same sort of success. That being said White Pigs have their moments even as the band’s available recordings are mixed and matched from various parts of its convoluted career.

Beginning in 1980, the Hartford based act combined gruff vocals and basic punk tunes with a bit of over the top guitar work, included for self aggrandizement as much as anything else. The troupe disbanded within two years, leaving no recordings behind. It wasn’t until the following year that the band reconvened, but only included the original bassist who picked up some singer named Brian Ripthroat (whoa.) The group’s first single included these folks. But the follow-up counted a new guitarist. There, apparently, wasn’t enough shredding. More personnel shifts ensued and by the end of ’84, White Pigs sported none of its original members even as this latter line-up found the most space on wax and even a few well distributed compilations. Of course, being the mid ‘80s and the band not favoring the spandex version of metal there wasn’t a tremendous future for ‘em. By 1990, everything was history and the band’s collected works – recordings spanning its career and endless line up changes – had been issued.

Savage Republic: Rock as Avant Trash

There’s a good reason to be relatively unfamiliar with Savage Republic. Firstly, the group was mostly active during the eighties, as a part of the post-punk LA thing that was going down. The fact that Savage Republic never trucked in anything approaching pop sucrose would be the second reason. And the most important reason? It seems that at any given moment, the band might turn in its Cabaret Voltaire styled noise for something off a Sun City Girls record. While those two tossed off references should be enticing, it’s pretty easy to imagine fans of one not being fans of the other.

Radical Face releases new EP to live his musical past, future


One of my favorite musicians rarely tours, records out of backyard shed and makes videos using family members. I’m not saying that he should have mega-tours and glitzy, packaged recordings—he wouldn’t; he’s anti-capitalist in the best sense—just that it’s surprising that he hasn’t been “discovered” by more people. Still, the Jacksonville, FL-based Ben Cooper, whose solo material is recorded under Radical Face, and duo material with Alex Kane called Electric President, has a devoted following who appreciate his dream-like and literary music.