25.12.10

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND : Bat Chain Puller (1976)

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I'm not going to bang on about Don Van Vliet's recent, premature passing, except to say that the world already seems a grimmer, greyer place knowing that he's not busying himself out in the middle of the desert someplace, throwing paint at a canvas & chuckling to some cryptic private joke... As Tom Waits told The Guardian last week, "Once you've heard Beefheart, it's hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee, or blood."

By way of tribute, here's the original & unreleased Bat Chain Puller album in EXCELLENT quality (i.e. infinitely better than Ozit's woeful Dust Sucker collection a few years back). This earlier, less acerbic version of 1978's Shiny Beast LP was recorded in early '76 by an economy sized Magic Band comprising John French (drums), Moris Tepper (guitar), Denny Whalley (guitar) & John Thomas (keyboards). Eliot Ingbar & Bruce Fowler had both left the band at the end of Beefheart's extensive '75 Bongo Fury tour & were therefore absent, though Fowler rejoined in time to appear on the re-recorded Shiny Beast renderings of these songs.

Provisionally intended for release on Frank Zappa's DiscReet label, the semi-completed Bat Chain Puller tapes were frustratingly caught up in protracted legal goings-on between Zappa & manager Herb Cohen & "temporarily" shelved. Beefheart, however, had already sent a cassette to Virgin Records' London office to see if they might be interested in releasing the album in Europe. A few dubs were subsequently handed out to sympathetic journalists, & inevitably bootlegged, before a deal had been finalised, hence...


Rest in peace, Captain.

21.12.10

TANGERINE DREAM : Live At Coventry Cathedral 1975

I KNOW THE HOLE IN BABY'S HEAD

Roky Erickson, filmed in 1986 at Austin State Hospital, Texas by Douglas Mobley. This unsettling clip is included among the plentiful extras on the You're Gonna Miss Me DVD...

15.12.10

RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY : This Today EP (1983)

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Red Lorry Yellow Lorry formed in Leeds in 1981 & , initially viewed as acolytes of J__ D______, were spurred on by the wave of interest surrounding the emerging drum machine driven, gothic rock sound of local acts The Sisters Of Mercy & March Violets. RLYL were definitely a "rock" band rather than a purely "gothic" one though, their thunderous assault having much more in common with the parodic rhythm & blues of The Three Johns (&, yes, Joy Division) than Yorkshire's ethereal snakebite & hairspray coterie. The intense combination of Chris Reed's booming vocal, the droning shit storm of electric guitars & the seismic doubling-up of electronic & live drums stills sounds pretty powerful to me. That's not just sentimental middle age, I hope?

The This Today 12", released via York's celebrated Red Rhino in 1983, was/is a round-up of highlights from the band's initial trio of 7"s for the label. The lead track, the sombre "Beating My Head", is a complete re-recording of the original, rather undeveloped 1982 single version (which was actually lifted directly from the demo cassette that got them signed). The remake is, for once, irrefutably superior to it's predecessor: in slowing the pace, piling on further layers of crackling guitar noise, & excising the intrusive Psychedelic Furs-style sax, it's vivid sense of foreboding becomes almost stifling. Overleaf, the cryptic, derisive "He's Read" remains not only my favourite RLYL song, but one of my favourite songs from that era full-stop.

A further run of excellent singles (all since compiled by Cherry Red) led to their debut LP, the ominous Talk About The Weather, a seldom acknowledged period archetype that's dated significantly better than concurrent albums by The Sisters Of Mercy, Skeletal Family or, God help us, The Mission.

RYLR reformed a few years back to perform live & released a handful of new songs through their website. Chris Reed currently performs solo, & semi-acoustically, as ChrisReedUnit.

5.12.10

FLYING SAUCER ATTACK : In Search Of Spaces (1996)

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I was up in Manchester a couple of weekends ago &, during my usual slightly frantic trawl of the city's record shops, spotted that Vinyl Exchange had a copy of this Flying Saucer Attack CD, tagged at a crippling £50!

An atmospheric mosaic of gentle psych-folk melodies ("rural psychedelia") & jarring freeform feedback, Flying Saucer Attack (named after a Rezillos song, of all things) started out as the solo project of Dave Pearce ("guitar, vocals, noise"), with on/off help from then-girlfriend Rachel Brook (drums). Formed in Bristol in the early 90s, FSA spearheaded a transient low-fi shoegaze "revival" that embraced several other loosely connected & similarly minded local acts, including Light, Crescent, Third Eye Foundation, Amp & Brook's own, apparitional Movietone. Starting out as a bedroom-based DIY operation & initially recording on a domestic hi-fi tape deck, FSA's limited edition, hand-assembled early vinyl releases (via 1st generation Avon punk label Heartbeat Productions) were not only wildly collectible but also musically unorthodox enough to attract the attention of ace U.S. underground label VHF &, eventually, our own Domino Reccord (latterly the Tesco of alt-rock), both of whom issued several excellent FSA collections over the next few years .

In Search Of Spaces was released on Bruce Russell's sadly dormant Corpus Hermeritcum label in 1996 in a once-only edition of 1000. It's a 50-minute assemblage of extracts from a number of FSA live performances, recorded on the band's only bona fide tour in 1994 & spliced 'n' diced by Russell himself. It contains no songs as such, just collaged (often overlapping) sections of unstructured, experimental, strung out improvisation - the spaces between the songs in fact. It's strictly limited pressing & long term unavailability means that it's been unjustly written off as a peripheral release despite it being one of FSA's most interesting & impressive works, rivaling both the enduring "Soaring High" 7" & their landmark John Peel sessions. It's definitely worth grabbing a hard copy for yourself if you can find it at a reasonable price (i.e.less than 50 quid!) - it's packaged in a lovely, tactile letterpress cardboard sleeve with a selection of unusual hand-printed odds & ends secreted within. Nice.

27.11.10

JUDY NYLON & CRUCIAL : Pal Judy LP + Carlotta 7" (1982)

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Lots of interest in the previous post, so now seems as good a time as any to re-up Judy Nylon's indecently fine Pal Judy LP. Recorded in 1982 with Adrian Sherwood & the On-U Sound posse, her collaborators here include members of Dub Syndicate, New Age Steppers & African Headcharge, though the overall sound is anything but "dubwise". Instead, it's a seductive suite of moody, twilight pop songs, each of them complemented by Judy's laconic drawl: "a classic rainy day bit of sound & song to drift away to", according to the NME. Though there are definite comparisons to be drawn with Nico's 80s work - a presiding John Cale influence, perhaps? - Judy's sultry cocktail post-punk rarely recalls Nico's remote, opiated ethereality.

The album was trailered by a 7" on Demon Records, twinning an overhauled version of Snatch's "Carlotta" with Pal Judy's crepuscular "Sleepless Night". I recently discovered an mp3 of the former squirrelled away online somewhere, so I've tacked it on to the end of the original album for your delectation, etc. Pal Judy itself was briefly issued as a ROIR cassette (remember them?) in the early 90s allegedly, though I've yet to see a copy.

Sadly, these recordings represent the extent of Judy's solo oeuvre. What a waste. As I suggested in my previous post, now that her exceptional collaboration with Bot'Ox has reintroduced her into the public domain, she/they should definitely consider hooking up for an entire LP. At the very least, somebody should consider remastering the Pal Judy sessions properly & making them readily available again...


24.11.10

JUDY NYLON vs. BOT'OX

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Cosmi Vitelli (aka Benjamin Boguet) has just released his first LP in ages, under the name Bot'Ox & in collaboration with Julien Briffaz (one half of Tjékël). It's called Babylon By Car & it's bloody brilliant, everything Gruff Rhys & Boom Bip's slightly tepid Neon Neon project could/should've been (though, credit where it's due, Stainless Style is still the greatest DeLorean concept album ever). Often echoing the sleazy afterhours ambiance of Trevor Jackson's vastly underrated Playgroup LP, I've been giving Babylon By Car an absolute hammering all weekend & haven't been able to find a bad track. The highlight for me is the amusingly sardonic "Tout Passe, Tout Lasse, Tout Casse", featuring the amazing Judy Nylon on vocals (where's she been hiding all this time, I wonder?). An ominous 4 a.m. crawl through rain lashed Parisian backstreets in a chauffeur driven Cadillac, it's foreboding soundtrack of opaque 80s stripclub synths is sufficiently grand that I've already Facebooked them to suggest they record an entire album with her! And the rest of the album is just as breath-taking - if, like me, you were knocked out by the oblique techno of Jackson & His Computer Band & Para One a couple of years ago, take note.

I've only seen Cosmo perform live once, DJing in the warm-up slot on Etienne De Crecy's Tempovision tour back in 2000 or thereabouts. Defying the audience's house-hungry expectations, he dropped an aberrant & eclectic selection of early 80s post-punk & skewiff Ze-inspired disco to a rapturous reception. Not bad going for a Sunday night. A year later absolutely everybody here was playing exactly the same bunch of tunes & blathering on about a "punk funk" revival - so, er, respect, monsieur! His schizophrenic debut LP, 1998's genre-jacking Vidéo, abruptly disappeared w/o trace when his label tanked (pick it up cheap c/o Amazon, it still sounds pretty good). The follow up, the giddily commercial acquiescence of Clean, was/is just plain irritating (sorry!), but he's since redeemed himself 1000% by founding the trés frais I'm A Cliché label & is now back on spectacular form with Babylon By Car. With Air seemingly running out of steam & Acid Washed's promising debut inexplicably stalled on the hard shoulder, Bot'Ox's hot-wired debut is looking like being one of my albums of the year. It's not been off my stereo for days now...

Double entendre alert: I can't help thinking that Bot'Ox's name might be a frivolous French reference to the humble English posterior? What do you reckon?

14.11.10

JOCK SCOT : My Personal Culloden (1997)

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Self-professed "poet & tragedian", Jock Scot was born in Leith in 1952 & began his career in the music industry as a renown supplier of "good vibes" to entertainers as diverse as Ian Dury & The Blockheads, The Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Taj Mahal, Dr. Feelgood, Viv Stanshall & Wreckless Eric. After waking up in a broom cupboard at the end of a particularly arduous tour, Jock settled in West London just as the scene there, centred around The Warwick Castle pub off the Portobello Road, was regenerating. It was at The Warwick that he began reading his poetry publicly, to the acclaim of "speed-crazed street sweepers & landed gentry" alike, his anointed raconteur's voice sounding as if it might slide off of it's bar stool at any moment, much like it's owner.

A connoisseur of semi-mythic "bad" poet William McGonagall, it's perhaps only natural to presume that Jock's initial stage-bound ambitions might not have been entirely serious. However, his first book, 1993's roguishly autobiographical Where Is My Heroine?, quickly sold out it's entire print run &, having renewed his acquaintance with ex-Fire Engine Davey Henderson (who he'd previously known in Edinburgh & who was at that point fronting The Nectarine No.9), Jock was coaxed into making his first recordings for Alan Horne's briefly reignited Postcard label, leading to 1997's soon-to-be-legendary My Personal Culloden LP. I'd first encountered Jock's work a couple of years prior to this c/o "Going Off Someone", his first collaboration with The Nectarine No.9, originally showcased on their Un-Loaded For You EP but also included on N#9's debut Peel session (later purloined for posterity on the Guitar Thieves comp). Like the disparate handful of other folk who were listening to N#9's work at the time, I'd assumed that Jock was a semi-satirical Davey Henderson alter ego, so when he shambled on stage in person to perform with the band on their 1995 tour, supporting a pre-trauma Edwyn Collins (their short set opened with Jock's acerbic "Just Another Fucked Up Little Druggy On The Scene" & closed with "Going Off Someone"), I was honestly a little taken aback. Dark, touching, crushingly honest & frequently hilarious, My Personal Culloden barely registered outside of N#9's small coterie of listeners &, due to the untimely collapse of Postcard², it slithered in & out of print before it had the opportunity to make a proper impression. Try searching for it on the 'net, it's only a decade or so old yet it's virtually impossible to find out anything about it.

Jock's been worryingly quiet since My Personal Culloden's release. Aside from one other album, 2006's similarly caustic The Caledonian Blues with debauched accomplice Gareth Sager (The Pop Group, Rip Rig & Panic, Head, et al), he seems to have disappeared without trace. I hope he's OK, the biographical DVD that accompanies the Sager LP is a bit of an eye opener, to put it mildly! Somebody make this man a star or, better yet, give him his own Hogmanay show on Channel 5. Fingers crossed he's busy working on his autobiography... if so, the talking book'll be a riot!

N.B. Bonus Jock Alert: For completion's sake, I've also enclosed "A Cold Meat Pie" from the scarce South Of An Imaginary Line EP. Ship ahoy.

● LINK REMOVED. Now available to buy c/o Amazon & iTunes.

11.11.10

MEKONS : 1st John Peel Session - 7th March 1978 (Radio broadcast).

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Today's my 44th birthday &, not surprisingly, I'm ever-so-slightly hungover. So I'm posting this, the Mekons' inaugural John Peel session (despite it already being available elsewhere on the 'net), because I've been so fond of it for so long - since Peel repeated all of their "phase 1" sessions over the space of an entire week sometime during the mid '80s - & I hereby reserve the right to cluelessly gibber on about it at inordinate length for my own mawkish amusement, etc... (Don't be surprised if I start welling up.)

"Why doesn't it rain when I'm sad? / I'll wear my Brutus jeans, they don't show the dirt."

Taped on 7th March 1978, these half dozen ragged songs were recorded sufficiently early into the band's existence that Delta 5's Roz Allen was still present on bass, & intrepid ham-fisted amateurism was still their primary catalyst. Though unmistakably motivated by punk's "Can't play, WILL play" ethos, the Mekons were never really a punk band as such - they were too arch, too intelligent, & too self-deprecatingly analytical for that. Listened to retrospectively their earliest recordings constitute a satirical real-time critique of the punk movement's abrupt & catastrophic descent into a stylistic, tribalistic cul-de-sac - & this is best illustrated by the anarchic urgency of their Peel sessions than their slightly subdued Virgin Records releases l I think?

"The Sex Pistols created a tremendous amount of debris, & that was very rewarding. It's like a child who loves to destroy something in order to find out what's it's made of... they just weren't able to construct anything from the debris... (but) that was just the beginning" (Malcolm McClaren)

The Mekons were a far more complex ensemble that was necessarily apparent in 1978-80. For example, were "Never Been In A Riot" or "Fight The Cuts" incipient attempts to express themselves via the prevailing zeitgeist of punk protest song ("White Riot"), or droll pastiches thereof ("Jilted John"), or were they something else entirely? This seminal Mekons era remains, for me, fascinating & unfathomable: "Where Were You"? No, what were you, Mekons?

Crucially, the Mekons fell together at Leeds University's fine arts department in 1977 where, alongside members of Gang Of Four & Delta 5, they studied under T.J. Clarke, one of the few British members of the Situationist International, & Terry Atkinson, formerly of Art & Language. Like Swell Maps or Devoto's Buzzcocks before them, this afforded them a degree of subtle intellectual separation - a self-awareness born out of a passionately intense fracas of canibalistic artistic/musical improvisation & anarcho-political radicalism that ultimately ensured they avoided the foreshortened shelf lives of more conventional "contemporaries" such as, let's say, Stiff Little Fingers or Angelic Upstarts (i.e. "WHY should our second LP sound like our first?", & so on). To be fair, the mild disappointment of "Where Were You" failing to bluff it's way onto TOTP doubtless contributed to this negation too?

"I suppose... we never thought we'd get past the first single, but now that we have, it's a dilemma, sin't it? Do you just pack it in & try to get a job or some security, or do you try to do something interesting?" (Jon Langford)

A couple of this session's songs were re-recorded for the band's brilliantly flawed Virgin LP, The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen, though these disorderly BBC versions are arguably superior (it depends what mood I'm in to be honest), while a few more reappeared sort-of-posthumously on CNT's absolutely mandatory It Falleth Like The Gentle Rain From Heaven retrospective, during the course of which the Mekons wave an understandably demoralised goodbye to the first phase of their existence (i.e. art school & Richard Branson) while tentatively embracing their second (a Morris dancing hillbilly in a faded Karl Marx t-shirt). I don't think I'll ever get bored of listening to them. I know you won't believe me when I tell you that Smash Hits used to froth at the mouth about this stuff at the time - before either Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus - but they did & I have the dogeared back issues to prove it! On the subject of which... who was Red Starr anyway?*

The Mekons in Smash Hits, 6th September 1979:
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*Ian Cranna apparently.

10.11.10

STRANGER STATION : Minutes To Silence 7" (1981)

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Stranger Station were conceived towards the end of the 1970s &, based around English duo Simon Driscoll & Judith Golberg, pursued a purely electronic, percussion-free direction. Their only release, 1981's near legendary "Minutes To Silence" 7", popped up briefly on France's über-obscure Superwop label &, in recent years, has become a firm favourite on the thriving minimal synth scene. It's not difficult to see why - simultaneously dated & dateless, it's a singularly powerful example of early 80s anodic prog-pop (once heard, never forgotten) that manages to invoke the spirit(s) of Silver Apples, early Human League, & 70s Radiophonic boffins such as Paddy Kingsland. Elemental, melancholy & glacially remote, it could almost be the work of a synth-wielding, Moorcock-reading Jandek (now there's a thought). It probably goes without saying that original copies currently change hands for around £100.

Almost 30 years on, Driscoll has unearthed both sides of the single & a number of tracks recorded & mixed during the same 1981 sessions for (re)issue as Stranger Station's debut LP, Echoes In Infinity, c/o Mark Schaffer's excellent retrofuturist Anna Logue imprint (500 vinyl copies only). Now principally a Driscoll solo project, Strange Station resumed regular live performances last year.

SWIRLIES : What To Do About Them EP (1992)

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I pulled a box of rammel out from under the bed yesterday &, rather fortunately, discovered yet another box lurking behind it. And in that second, enigmatic box? Lots of long forgotten indie CDs from the 90s, including Eric's Trip, Trumans Water, Pitchblende & my entire Swirlies collection (I honestly thought I'd mislaid them last time I moved house).

Originally a Go-Gos cover band (!) called Raspberry Bang (!!), Swirlies' primary intentions were sidetracked upon hearing the emerging English shoegaze sound of My Bloody Valentine & the like c/o Boston's college radio. Promptly renaming themselves & vowing to write their own material, the by-now converted Swirlies were apostolically indebted to Loveless-era MBV from the off. However, their naked adoration was always applied with a pin sharp lucidity that Kevin & co. went to great lengths to avoid, revealing further layers of buried guitar noise & ambiguous taped detritus beneath their melodious veneer. 1992's BlonderTongueAudioBaton, 1 of the 2 LPs they released in their original incarnation, is commonly acknowledged as their woozy, fainéant masterpiece. For me, it sat comfortably alongside Pavement's otherwise peerless Slanted & Enchanted, released just a few months earlier - I certainly played both of them an awful lot back then, whilst poring over the minutely detailed cut'n'paste sleeves for morsels of revelatory info. Nowadays, with nu-gaze bands like Wavves, Yuck & Best Coast "revisiting" the Daydream Grunge™ sound of MBV, Dinosaur Jr, Swervedriver (!), et al, Swirlies' debut LP could conceivably be released next week & still sound totally "contemporary", though your guess is as good as mine as to what that says about the despondent retro-obsessive state of the current indie scene?

What To Do About Them provided a cheap 7-song introduction to Swirlies before BlonderTongueAudioBaton dropped. A bricolage of early Slumberland/Pop Narcotic 7"s, obscure compilation appearances & homeless outtakes, it remains a surprisingly effective teaser & I guarantee it'll have you surreptitiously investigating Swirlies' back catalogue further once you've heard it (mark my condescending words). And for old farts like me, it's a pertinent reminder that not everybody was moping around listening to bloody In Utero back in the mid-90s...

7.11.10

URGE OVERKILL : Wichita Lineman 7" (1987)

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Big Black booted the fire exit open for a disparate bunch of Chicago post-punk/proto-grunge unknowns back in the late 80s, some of them great (Naked Raygun, Rifle Sport, Breaking Circus), some of them not so great (yuk). Urge Overkill were certainly one of the best, before they nestled up to the corporate teat with their "polarising" Saturation LP anyway.

U.O. debuted in 1987 with the nascent Strange, I... 12" on Ruthless Records, a Chicago-based co-operative (as opposed to a conventional label) founded by punk luminaries The Effigies with help from Naked Raygun & Big Black. Ruthless ground to a halt a year or so later following The Effigies' split, necessitating U.O.'s move to Touch & Go, whereupon they released this stately cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" as a 7" - which is where I came in. I expect I taped it off of John Peel's show one evening & bought it in Selectadisc the following weekend...

Home to Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers & Killdozer (& Chicago's nearest equivalent to Seattle's SubPop), Touch & Go had already established itself as one of those few labels whose every release was worth investigating &, as the pre-Britpop music scene here was still grappling with the fag-end of C86 (Pop Will Eat Itself & Talulah Gosh, God help us...), noisy American bands with names like Urge Overkill seemed obscure, mysterious &, frankly, terribly exciting. Also, the British independent scene having been evangelically anti-rockist since the late 70s, U.O.'s audacious touting of a Massive Guitar Sound™ (Cheap Trick c/o Chrome?) seemed markedly out of step & clandestine. Unfortunately, of course, this all culminated in the humourless ARENA ROCK CATACLYSM (aka Led Zep Redux) of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden & Smashing Pumpkins, but, as there are now several top shelf publications specialising in that kind of filth, we needn't discuss it here.

Though I played "Wichita Lineman" to death, I always preferred it's b-side, "Head On". It reappeared the following year on U.O.'s Jesus Urge Superstar LP, which cost me a fortune on import but quickly earned it's keep via my playing "Your Friend Is Insane" & "Very Sad Trousers" on repeat for the next 2 years...

LINK DELETED - these songs have recently been remastered & made available c/o iTunes.

1.11.10

THE NERVES : From The Nerves EP (1976)

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I've been playing a lot of Blondie recently (Eat To The Beat? Love it!), & "Hanging On The Telephone" inevitably cropped up. Though Debbie Harry & co. scored a massive European hit with it in 1978, it had actually been written, recorded & released 2 years prior on this, The Nerves' solitary 7".

From The Nerves = classic Power Pop. A masterful L.A. updating of the perennial British Invasion/Merseybeat sound, fired up by The Flaming Groovies' proto-punk sensibilities & The Ramones incoming blitzkrieg tumult, it mirrored perfectly Nick Lowe's work for the embryonic Stiff label which was simultaneously taking place on our side of the Atlantic. Listening to From The Nerves now, the first thing you'll notice is that "Hanging On The Telephone" isn't actually the best song here. "When You Find Out", a crafty play on Herman's Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good" that wouldn't sound out of place on side 2 of the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack (seriously!), is even better. All 4 songs sound like potential A-side material &, needless to say, Greg Shaw leapt in with a Bomp! licensing deal the minute he heard them. And before anybody pipes up with lazy Rutles comparison or 3, I should possibly point that All You Need Is Cash didn't appear until 1978 - HA!

Though bands like The Fleshtones, The Barracudas & even (ahem) The Knack would capitalise on the Power Pop sound a couple of years later, The Nerves' one shot at fame remains it's crowning release. Alive Records' 2008 One Way Ticket retrospective anthologises From The Nerves & a slew of previously unreleased songs (including the brilliant "Paper Dolls" which would've made an irresistible 2nd 45) - you can buy it here, alongside a ton of post-Nerves releases from The Plimsouls, The Beat & others.

14.10.10

UT : Ut 12" (1984)

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Finally... the mighty Ut, possibly the final ensemble from the original No Wave era whose influence & importance has yet to be adequately addressed, & one of the finest too.

Forming in 1978, they'd already racked up 5 long years' worth of performances on the NYC underground & worked through a number of line-ups before releasing this eponymous debut 12" (their first appearance on vinyl). Recorded at Brixton's Cold Storage & self-released in 1984 on their own Out label (to resounding critical indifference), you'll no doubt recognise the fantastic "Sham Shack" as Soul Jazz included it on one of their New York Noise compilations. The 3 other pieces here are just are startling, perhaps more so - all seem daunting & impenetrable initially but utterly timeless in retrospect. I only ever actually saw a copy for sale once, in Nottingham's Selectadisc in the late 80s, which I immediately bought & have hung onto through thick & thin, it's such a great, great record. Tantalisingly, Ut completed an even earlier EP for Charles Ball's semi-mythic Lust/Unlust label prior to it's abrupt collapse - c'mon Soul Jazz, get it sorted!

Relocating from New York to London in the early 80s, encouraged by the patronage of Mark E Smith & The Birthday Party amongst others, Ut eventually hooked up with Paul Smith's pivotal Blast Label to release a handful of extraordinary LPs (In Gut's House = masterpiece) before finally calling it a day in 1990. I was fortunate enough to see them them live on a handful of occasions in the mid-80s & it's fair to say that they made absolutely no concessions on stage - swapping instruments, teetering on the brink of a liberating chaos, dissecting & spitting out their ferocious, primal guitar-scraping abstractions to disconcerted, slack jawed crowds who'd much rather have been watching The Flatmates. Ut were "interested in collapsing the divide between song & free improvisation... Most songs came from improvisation & contained aspects of the free even when they became solidified". Though they'd appear at the outset to be freely, & somewhat awkwardly, improvising, the realisation would gradually dawn that, actually, the songs they were playing had been meticulously arranged to sound that way: fractured, forensic, remote & slightly cantankerous.

So, the good news is that (i) Ut performed together, unannounced, in London earlier this year for the first time in 2 decades, supporting Dial (Jacqui Ham's current outfit) at The Luminaire, & (ii) they're about to play several more shows on America's East Coast. Make the effort to see them if you get the chance, they're one of my all-time favourite bands (though it seems slightly churlish to refer to them merely as "a band") & still sound like nothing else on Earth.

P.S. If anybody reading this has Ut's Live 1981 cassette on Out please get in touch.

10.10.10

10,000 MANIACS : My Mother The War 12" (1983)

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10,000 Maniacs formed (as Still Life) in chilly upper New York in 1981 & are one of those rare bands who, rather like The Smiths, seemed to emerge without precedent or any obvious influences. John Peel had a fleeting obsession with them back in 1983 &, being a compulsive listener to his show at that point, so did I. Nowadays, the band having long since retreated into anaemic (albeit politically charged) MOR, it's easy to forget how radical their first few records sounded. The unlikely combination of 17 year old Natalie Merchant's ethereal folk vocal (a female equivalent to early, expressionist Michael Stipe), Robert Buck's bizarre, overloaded guitar (a bedsit version of The Edge perhaps?) & a rhythm section that alternated between hesitant white reggae & pounding alt-rock, seemed very peculiar to a schoolkid more accustomed to the DIY dystopia of Devo, Fad Gadget & (!) You've Got Foetus On Your Breath.

This Reflex 12" was the band's first European release & slipped in & out of print relatively quickly, despite scoring a sizable hit on the British independent chart. "My Mother The War" was taken from the band's debut LP, Secrets Of The I-Ching & remains the keynote song of their early repertoire. "Planned Obsolescence" was the stand-out track on their debut, self-released EP, Human Instinct No.5, & is most notable for it's extraordinary guitar playing, totally at odds with the rest of the song (it certainly made me stop whatever I was doing & listen). It's still my favourite song of theirs by some distance. "National Education Week" is a formative (& much longer) demo version of the Secrets Of The I-Ching track that only ever appeared on the Reflex EP (the shorter I-Ching version was omitted from later pressings of the album btw). An awkward lo-fi dub track with an indecipherable child-like vocal (shades of Ari Up?), it could almost be an early 80s On-U Sound outtake.

Inevitably, considering the worldwide popularity the band achieved in the latter half of the 80s, virtually all of these early ("Fredonia") recordings were eventually compiled on Elektra's Hope Chest retrospective in 1990, albeit noticeably cleaned-up ("wet" 80s drums, etc) & losing much of their basement charm in the process. The original vinyl mixes sound vastly superior & I'd definitely suggest you hear them first if at all possible. Needless to say, as per John Peel, my interest in 10,00 Maniacs waned as their musical expertise & self-awareness grew & was bumped off once & for all by a horribly precious appearance on The Tube (don't say I didn't warn you). This EP, the only record of theirs I've ever owned, still sounds rather good though, eh?

7.10.10

FACTORY FLOOR : Talking On Cliffs EP (2009)

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A ludicrously scarce Japan-only e.p., Talking On Cliffs was released in minute quantities by Magnetic Records last Summer & is currently for sale on Amazon over here (1 copy only!) for a paltry £36. I've no idea when/where this material was recorded, whether any of it will turn up as part of Factory Floor's debut album (when they finally get 'round to putting one out), or if it's even a wholly "official" release anyway - apologies for the uncharacteristic vagueness. It sounds awesome though: disembodied vocals, wrecked guitars, & jagged sequenced electronics with a thick streak of DOA-era T.G. coursing right through 'em. Surely the NME doesn't really like this sort of thing these day, does it?

I Just Left These As Attempts

26.9.10

THE SERVANTS : She's Always Hiding 7" (1986)

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A short 'n' sweet entry from The Servants, featuring the elusive David Westlake, Creation Records' Great White Hope for 1987 (along with Blow Up, Phil Wilson & Baby Amphetamine). Westlake, where are you now?*

As mid-80s Brit jangle goes, "She's Always Hiding" is a bit of a classic - reserved, subtle, nicely performed & not at all dated, despite embodying it's (much maligned) era. If nothing else, it puts paid to the common misconception that all homegrown independent guitar music from this period was the product of twee, thumb-sucking Byrds-fans with greasy fringes & uniformly appalling vintage knitwear. It also led directly to John Peel immediately commissioning their sole BBC session (though Westlake, with The Go-Betweens as his backing band, recorded a solo set for Janice Long in early '87). In hindsight, Westlake seems a superior vocalist / lyricist to many of his late 80s contemporaries, & it's perhaps unjust that The Servants somehow missed out on the critical hyperbole granted to, for example, The Loft, with whom they certainly had a minor chord or 2 in common.

Originally released on Head (Loop, The Wishing Stones, etc) in 1986, this neglected 7" has since been rounded up by Cherry Red to kick off their 2006's Servants CD retrospective. The B-side, "Transparent", overcame it's all-too-obvious debt to Syd's "Octopus" to appear on the NME's misunderstood C86 compilation, of course. Though slightly unrepresentative of the band's sound generally, it's undoubtedly their most widely heard song. Great single all 'round then!


* He's lecturing in English at Brunel University apparently.

STEREOLAB : The Underground Is Coming EP (1999)

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You might remember that back at the turn of the century Stereolab were at their most furiously, wallet-worryingly prolific - bewilderingly so in fact. The proliferation of new material they were ceaselessly hemorrhaging culminated in way too much stylistic repetition & an unnecessary glut of largely interchangeable releases that only the most financially benevolent 'Lab aficionado could ever have hoped to keep abreast of (i.e. not me). Patience & resources severely tested, I have to admit that I ducked out on 'em after 1999's Cobra & Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night LP, only dipping back into their frantic release schedule intermittently, & then only for seductive boutique releases like this one, The Underground Is Coming...

I've always preferred Stereolab's succinct, EP-length collections (1995's Music For The Amorphous Body Centre remains one of their finest releases after all) &, as such, The Underground Is Coming is outstanding. A limited edition 4-track 7" in a blinding red & yellow Situationist-inspired sleeve, it was released c/o their own Duophonic label (#D-UHF-D24) & sold exclusively on tour in 1998-99. Musically, it's a frothy mélange of abstracted Abba melancholy, celestial Krautrock motorik, post-ironic elevator muzak & kitschy, wah-wah steeped synths. To date, none of it's buoyant Mooged-up miniatures have been compiled on any of the band's regular Switched On anthologies which is a bit of a shame - brief, slightly daft songs like "Fried Monkey Brains" make a refreshing change from what had by then become "standard" 'Lab fare, & The Groop sound as if they're letting their hair down a bit & having some FUN for once.

And absence really does make the heart grow fonder it seems - I'm currently fighting off a profoundurge to nip upstairs & dig out a couple of old 'Lab albums for a listen, it's been ages...

13.9.10

GG Allin Works The Room... (1989)

A GG Allin spoken word show, recorded in Boston c.1989. Despite his fearsome reputation, he actually strikes quite a pathetic figure throughout this performance (& it definitely is a "performance"), taking his anger out on property for the most part & visibly flinching at the prospect of genuine, physical violence. It doesn't look like he'd downed his customary laxatives prior to taking the stage on this occasion either, for which I'm rather thankful - I guess he didn't feel the assembled hipster throng was worth the trouble? As the man himself quoth" "With G.G. you don't get what you expect - you get what you deserve." Having said that, he was imprisoned for "rape & torture of a female aquaintence" later this year, so they evidently got off quite lightly...

6.9.10

SMOG : Tired Tape Machine (1990)

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More nil-fi flotsam from Bill Callahan's Maryland years. Recorded, primitively, in Pasadena way back in May 1990, & originally released on cassette on his own Disaster label, Tired Tape Machine found Bill cautiously edging towards bare-bones melody for the first time. A handful of these songs were extracted by Drag City for inclusion on Smog's Floating EP & Forgotten Foundation LP. A few others appeared in reworked form on peripheral releases such as the My Shell 7" & the Burning Kingdom EP. Tired Tape Machine sounds like shit, but most early Smog did of course...

MEMORYHOUSE : The Years EP (2010)

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OK, it's not often that I post new music on here, so make the most of this... Memoryhouse are a somnambulant, hauntological boy/girl duo from Canada. I know next to nothing about them, 'cept that their names are Denise Nouvion & Evan Abeele (a photographer & a "neo-classical composer" respectively) & that their one (DL-only) EP to date, The Years, sounds like a Kendra Smith-fronted Broadcast channeling an ectoplasmic Boards Of Canada remix c/o Reed Richards' Negative Zone. Indie blogs'll inform you that Memoryhouse are "hotly tipped practitioners of chillwave" or "blissed-out glo-fiers" no doubt, but let's just label them good ol' fashioned psychedelia & be done with it, hmm? They've been giving these 4 hazy songs away for nothing c/o Arcade Sound for a few months now - their only non-virtual release to date, a 7" featuring 2 versions of "To The Lighthouse" on Inflated Records, has just been repressed on translucent blue vinyl & is available here. If there's one thing better than free music it's good free music, & The Years is marvellous throughout - I honestly can't stop playing it, Favourite New Band Alert, etc...

Update: Memoryhouse later re-recorded this virtual E.P. in it's entirety for release on Sub Pop in 2011. Just to clarify, the versions posted here are the original self-released incarnations - you can purchase the "redux" edition here.

29.8.10

THE SOFT BOYS : (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp 7" (1978)

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Now then, though I've never been a fully paid-up acolyte of The Church Of Robyn Hitchcock, there's no denying that The Soft Boys knocked out a freakishly decent album or 2. The majority of their back catalogue has recently been reissued again, c/o Yep Roc this time 'round. However, despite a plethora of (download only) bonus tracks, the band's vital early singles have once again been overlooked - is Robyn making a concerted effort to distance himself from them, or what? The 2nd, 1978's "(I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" on Radar, is arguably one of their finer moments - a near-perfect compound of lysergic Barrett-fuelled psych/wonk & Python-esque suburban Surrealism that neatly condenses the first 4 XTC albums into a single, surging 3 minute power pop blipvert. It still sounds terribly exciting, 30-odd years later, & Robyn's mock rock grunt (36 seconds in) never fails to make me smirk. First-rate Barney Bubbles sleeve too.

Though many of The Softs' initial sessions exhibited little more than a lingering comedic debt to The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band & a surfeit of borderline annoying undergraduate humour (particularly live), it's perhaps only fair to put them into the glum pre-punk context of Cambridge c.1975 & imagine how fresh an alternative their deviant music hall whimsy must've provided back then, for hungry music lovers driven to lemming-like seppuku by the soporific drivel of Jackson Browne & The Eagles, et al. Ultimately, the flab-free rush of "Anglepoise" & the sinister Magic Band boogaloo of it's B-side, "Fatman's Son", atone for any earlier, rhetorical indiscretions, ditto A Can Of Bees' fearsome angularity. Crucially, Robyn's songs have always suggested that his eccentricities were/are, on the whole, genuine, whereas the gurning smart arses who followed in his wake (a.n.d.y.p.a.r.t.r.i.d.g.e.) always looked & sounded as if they were trying w-a-y too hard.

I'm sure it goes without saying that Underwater Moonlight is one of the best LPs of the immediate post-punk era, but give the lesser known Invisible Hits a listen too - despite it's somewhat impromptu nature, it's actually a beast of an album.