Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Bob Lazar Story - Self-Loathing Joe

In the modern era of music making, a pet saying of mine, aimed at the surfeit of truly average, sometimes awful music out there that was made only because of a working knowledge of cheap audio recording and manipulation software, regardless of any actual musical talent, is "bedroom music that should have stayed there".

Hundreds of these recordings that back in the day would not have progressed beyond the guitarist's parents' garage, let alone made it it to a studio are uploaded every month for the benefit or otherwise of the universe at large. Of course, I appreciate the irony in all that, being an amateur myself, but hey I can take it!

Here we have an ex-pat Scouser and occasional cab driver now residing in Christchurch, New Zealand collaborating over ye interweb with a drummer ensconced in Los Angeles, USA collectively under the name of The Bob Lazar Story. From what I said at the beginning of this piece, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am about to set sail on a self-induced stormy Sea of Rant. Well, no actually, as Self-Loathing Joe is actually an example of the benefits rather than the drawbacks of instant comms and easy access to recording technology.

The ex-pat Scouser is Matt Deacon, and the Californian sticksman is Chris Jago, and together they have made an individualistic instrumental EP that is full of invention and the joys of life. Matt's sense of humour is apparent from his instrument endorsements on Bandcamp. He uses "plenty of fucked gear held together with sticky tape and hope", a true "bedroom musician" description if ever I read one, while Chris appears to be a real pro, judging by his percussive listing.

I have no idea if the two protagonists have ever met, but Matt's occasionally slightly Zappa-esque tunes, with an added hint of mischievous glee now and and again are perfectly pinned down by Chris's authoritative but never overpowering drumming, as if the pair have been together in a real band for years.

There is also an archness that runs through this short but charming piece of work, highlighted by the opening and closing tracks, the latter being the reverse of the former, which is exactly as described. Also, you will spot a Hatfields' humour to the song titles, and even some of their musical influence within Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor. "Foodstool" is a reference to the duo's previous EP, which is another slice of eclectic but fun music making.

Ezekiel II, by far the longest tune here, commences as a slow funky strut led by Chris's solid beat before riffage and later some disembodied voices turn it to a is a cosmic glide in orbit around Matt's slide guitar figure and some reverbed keyboards, almost Floyd-like in places.

Matt and Chris have emerged from their virtual bedroom with their dignity intact and judging by this EP do not deserve to be confined there, at all.

1. Harmonics (0:16)
2. Don Branch Venom (3:00)
3. No Wait. Yes Chips (2:45)
4. Self-Loathing Joe (2:05)
5. Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor (3:04)
6. Ezekiel II (8:59)
7. Scinomrah (0:15)

Total running time - 20:24

Line up:
Matt Deacon - Guitars and Mouse
Chris Jago - Drums

Tanya Didham - Vocals on Ezekiel II
Zeke Deacon - Other vocals


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Tētēma - Geocidal

Mike Patton as part of Faith No More played a big part in one the best albums of the 1990s regardless of genre, the brainfrying acid punk metal cinemascape that was Angel Dust. Since then I have dipped in and out of Patton's career, especially his projects away from the band, whom he joined in 1988. Faith No More split ten years later and since then Patton has developed into something of a musical polymath. His career covers all bases; from continuing to front his previous band, the absurdist pop-metal outfit Mr Bungle who ended on a high in 2000 with the superb California album, to experimental solo albums, via the avant garde improv group Hemophiliac with John Zorn, to singing Italian oldies from the 50s in front of an orchestra under the name of Mondo Cane, and not forgetting the barking but wonderful experimental metal outfit Fantômas. Oh, and he's dabbled in opera, too, as well as acting in films and composing film scores, and of course he joined the newly reformed and still working line up of Faith No More in 2009, and then there's alt-metal supergroup Tomahawk, and the seemingly dormant Peeping Tom project.

No wonder then that Patton blamed the break up of his marriage to Italian artist  Cristina Zuccatosta partly on his obsessive working practices, during which as legend has it, nothing stronger than caffeine was consumed to keep him going. This man makes Steven Wilson appear sloth-like!

And so we arrive at Patton's latest adventure along the road less travelled, the exotically named Tētēma. This project is really the brainchild of Australian pianist, electronica manipulator and composer Anthony Pateras, who spent 18 months putting this together, the germ of the idea apparently "…started when I locked myself in a convent in rural France for 10 days to think about rhythm and sound". Sounds like a normal day at the office for Mike, no wonder he was interested.

Taking my cue from the record label's PR blurb, and because I am feeling especially lazy this dreary wet autumnal day, I won't attempt to describe this in my usual lengthy detail, only to say it is an analogue-electronica-percussion-vocal mash up, the like of which you won't have heard before. As Ipecac Recordings put it, "To us, it sounds like two maniacs in their respective studios having the time of their lives, rebirthing some of the most insane songcraft this side of the godforsaken Miley-Cyrus worshipping millennium". Yep, that'll do.

This deeply unsettling and specially commissioned video by avant-garde film maker Sabina Maselli for the track Tenz sums it all up perfectly...

One thing to note is that only a small part of this work derives from sampling, the majority is real and organic, although your ears may struggle to believe it. Followers of Patton will not be surprised that this record is way out on a limb, just as it should be.

1. Invocation of the Swarm (2:44)
2. Pure War (2:410
3. Irundi (4:18)
4. The Hell of Now (3:15)
5. Ten Years Tricked (7:31)
6. 3-2-1 Civilisation (3:36)
7. Tenz (3:22)
8. Suishaman (0:35)
9. Kid Has Got The Bomb (4:31)
10. Emptiness of Ecstasy (2:10)
11. Death in Tangiers (4:01)

Total running time - 38:43

Line up:
Mike Patton - voices
Anthony Pateras - synths, pianos, machines

Will Guthrie - drums 1-7, 9

...and a whole lot of other guest musicians, written in a nigh on impossible font to read. You'll just have to buy the CD and squint!

Ipecac Recordings

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Magic Bus - Transmission From Sogmore's Garden

Hailing the that hotbed of rock'n'roll excess, Totnes in Devon, Magic Bus are rather accurately musically described on their PR sheet as turning out "sun-drenched harmonies and vintage prog rock noodling". That kind of retro warning would normally have me groaning, but Transmission From Sogmore's Garden is such a charming affair, you'd have to be an even more battle-weary old scrote than moi not to appreciate its thorough winsomeness.

There is a review on Amazon that is headlined "Better than Caravan?", well, obviously not, but these chaps and chappess have certainly been playing the first few albums by the Canterbury instigators on heavy rotate, along with large helpings of the the first two CSN(&Y) albums. There are worse things to be influenced by, it has to be said.

Opening with Sunflower, Magic Bus lay their cards on the table. This band are not going to be pushing any envelopes anywhere soon, but hey, that's just fine. Nostalgia certainly IS what it used to be in Sogmore's Garden. Sunflower is infused with a heady West Coast aroma, via Welsh wizards Man's own appropriated Californian vibe on their Rhinos album. Led by a winsome flute line it skips away down the winding path, full of the joys of life, including a very Caravan-esque solo from the keys player.

Three of the songs here were composed by singer and guitarist Paul Evans, the remainder by Evans in tandem with keyboard player Jay Darlington. Paul has one of those voices that while it sometimes struggles with staying on note in a fashion similar to Pye Hastings' charmingly strained high croon, manages not to make me wince, but smile to myself. This despite living with perfect pitch, which can be a curse as much as a blessing, particularly as I no longer have a practical use for it. Paul's singing is enhanced no end by the lovely harmonies of Viv Goodwin, Benny Brooke and Terence Waldstradt, the "flowers in the hair" on the head of the blissed-out and occasionally wavering lead voice.

The top line instrumentation consists of guitar, keyboards, mostly of the organ variety, and flute, in varying combos. You will have recognised the name of the keyboard player, yep, it's the tall one from Kula Shaker. After the demise of Kula Shaker, Jay Darlington spent five years as the touring ivory tinkler with Oasis, but we'll forgive him that, everyone has to make a living. More recently he has reconnected with his true pastoral psych-prog calling, contributing organ to a couple of cuts on the fabulous The Unrecorded Beam by fellow Devonians Billy Bottle & The Multiple, as well as being a full-time member of Magic Bus since their debut album in 2010. However, this second album is not a showcase for any one individual, but a complete band effort. Even so, that won't stop me mentioning the organ break four and a half minutes in to Seven Wonders, which is a straight copy of Dave Sinclair's reedy sound on Nine Feet Underground. Heheh.....

What Paul might lack technically in the tonsil department, but not I must emphasise to the detriment of the record, he more than makes up for with his gently fried guitar lines. Together with Jay's swelling organ (heheh...the old ones are indeed, the old ones), the two make for a lovely combination on the introduction to the rambling and pastoral Ballad of Lord Sogmore, which from the start of the vocal section has that indefinable "getting it together in the country" feel that Traffic used to great effect waaay back in the day. Paul's marvellously acidic solo towards the end of the tune is followed by a flute solo on the outro, all quite lovely.

And that is the general tone of the album, as it combines drifting across the cosmic vastness under the influence of many cups of mushroom tea with an inescapable pastoral English vibe. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn lights the way with a waltz across the lawn, and Three Days hints that if they could do it again, they'd do it all over you, I'm sure. "Climb aboard the bus, let's head off for the summer" sings Paul, and indeed this is one of those hazy, lazy records recalling stoned days in the countryside. Marvellous!

Pretty soon the Bus is away across the universe on an expanded trip, and it's real good out here, we may even be immaculate. Hints of jazzy keys enlighten Jupiter 3AM, Dave briefly vacating the place behind the electric piano, Steve takes over...only for one album. Jay knows his Caravan keyboard players, is all I'm saying! Melody is never far away, and a simple but effective tune points the way to the small hours as the biggest planet fills our view, before the trip goes skewiff on the back of a atypically aggressive section. Flung back out of gravity's pull, the trip continues.

That's probably more than enough individual track description. If you like what you've heard and hopefully read, then just go buy the thing! Helpful links provided at the end of this nonsense.

I'm always griping about prog bands who want to make "Fragile By The Pound", and it might seem a tad hypocritical of me to shout this band's praises as I have been doing, for they are just as unashamedly nostalgic as any Yenesis wannabee you care to mention, but you see, the thing is, bands that wish to be stuck nine feet underground in early 70s Canterbury while dreaming of toking with Crosby and Nash in Laurel Canyon are, perhaps thankfully - I wouldn't want this album to be the start of a trend - a damn sight rarer and therefore far easier to enjoy.

I like this album a lot. It seems everything in Sogmore's Garden is rosy. While there are melody lines here, riffs there that have you thinking you're sure you've heard that before, in the fullness of time it matters not a jot, just get on the Magic Bus and enjoy the trip. You pay your fare in bananas, cos they got no bones... ;)

That was a recommendation from "The Peter Cook of Prog", as I was christened by a prog fan from Totnes, oddly enough! Buy this newish-but-dusty slice of dreamery from the band's website below.

1. Sunflower (3:51)
2. Ballad Of Lord Sogmore (5:15)
3. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn (3:47)
4. Three Days (7:32)
5. Jupiter 3AM (8:37)
6. Seven Wonders (5:33)
7. Morning Mantra (6:55)
8. Earthpod (4:44)

Total running time - 47:20

Line up:
Paul Evans - Lead vocal and guitar
Jay Darlington - Hammond organ and assorted vintage keyboards
Terence Waldstradt - Lead guitar and backing vocals
Viv Goodwin - Flute and backing vocals
Benny Brooke - Bass guitar and backing vocals
Matt Butlin - Drums

Listen to the whole album on Soundcloud

Band website


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