Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Winter Solstice Box

What did you get for Xmas in the way of music, then? These are my choice gifted shiny discs of the usurped pagan festival, narrated with my usual acerbic flare...

The Who - Maximum As&Bs

There really was something in the water in 1967, and Owsley Stanley probably put it there. Whatever it was, it made so many bands explode with creativity in a manner that was never anticipated, least of all by the bands themselves. One of those groups was The 'Oo, who up to that point had a knack for a catchy single, and in Pete Townshend they had a writer brimming with ideas, which combined with the potent chemistry of their line up made for an exciting proposition on Ready Steady Go. Like all bands from the early 60s, even The Beatles, the b-sides from their early years were more often than not filler rather than killer. Then in 1967 out of the blue came I Can See For Miles which witnessed Townshend's songwriting take a huge leap forward. Suddenly they were so much more than just a noisy pop band.

This nicely put together box set can be split into two, the first three and a bit CDs of five being mostly highly entertaining, the rest of the "play once and file" variety. Everything that comes before I Can See For Miles is a band scratching around looking for a road to travel, with occasional gems on the a-side hiding filler and  experiments at the mixing desk going rather awry on the b-sides. What the heck was going through Pete's mind while making the godawful mess that is Disguises?

I Can See For Miles arrives near the end of CD Two, and CD Three is where the main action is, starting with Pinball Wizard, which poffers the incongruous prospect of the pugilistic Roger Daltrey - what is it with musos called Roger and punching walls? - playing the delicate innocent abroad deaf dumb and blind kid, and ends with the perfunctory but nevertheless rocktastic Relay. It also contains my fave 'Oo single, The Seeker, along with four minutes of evidence in the form of Dogs Part Two that Townshend might be a great rhythm player and songwriter, but a lead plank spanker he ain't. Good to know that you don't need the endless racket of Live In Leeds, the world's most overrated live album, to tell you that!

The 'Oo's finest moment,  here in truncated single form is on the third CD too, and I defy you not to turn it up a notch or two when the opening riff of Won't Get Fooled Again crashes in. Another fave of mine is the rather underrated downhome rabblerouser with Jew's Harp that is Join Together, the by then somewhat dated hippy sentiment being at odds with the band's admirable aggressive stance notwithstanding. Predating Townshend's work with Ronnie Lane it has a "getting it together in the country" feel, with DM's on. Given their stance and their connection with their audience, The 'Oo were probably the first punk band when all's said and done. Join Together's b-side, a rather yawnsome Daltrey chest beating and Townshend guitar workout symptomatic of their live sound at the time, is the only filler on the third CD.

By the fourth CD, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in, and really, it's all over by track seven (of 16), the somewhat wheezing Who Are You, which rather pointedly, coming out as it did in the year of punk showed how the spiritual fathers of the UK safety pin generation had run out of steam. Also of course, soon after that single the band lost a cornerstone with the sad death of Moon The Loon. Maybe they should have had the dignity and sense to call it a day then, in a similar fashion to Led Zeppelin a couple of years later.

The rest of the fourth and the fifth CD are really fans only affairs containing as they do numerous live tracks and some non-essential studio work by later line ups that have little of the original band's energy or direction.

Maximum As&Bs is not bad at all, but I wouldn't have bought it. This is what Xmas is for, after all!

The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 2 CD Edition

We are constantly told The Beatles had a lot do with or even caused the seismic shift in popular music that took place in 1967, so it must be true. Personally, I think that the likes of Hendrix, and to a lesser extent Cream had just as much to do with it, although to be fair it could be argued that the Scousers kick-started the process with the previous year's Revolver. As far as Sgt. Pepper goes, obviously there is nothing left to be said about what is probably the most well-known collection of tracks ever committed to tape, so I don't really need to add anything, other than the fact that Giles Martin's stereo remix is truly marvellous, and knocks his dad's team's original afterthought of a stereo mix into a cocked dustbin.

The second CD contains wonderful remixes of the contemporaneous Penny/Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever single, annoyingly hidden away as tracks 16 and 18, so you have to fiddle around with the remote to play them in sequence. I wonder how many folk are going to burn a CD or store a playlist with the single either before or after the main album, and never play the rest of CD 2 again, which is merely a collection of inessential play once outtakes?

Soft Machine - Live In Paris

This one is courtesy of my trusty gig-going companion Phil W, who knows my odd taste pretty well. Therefore, I sensibly waited until my better half was out of the house before entertaining the cats with its fulsome racket, recorded in 1972 at the venerable Paris L'Olympia.

Actually, Mike Ratledge's more edgy and teeth-rattling fuzz-driven Lowery organ work is largely absent, or buried in the mix, often replaced instead by his, or subservient to Elton Dean's electric pianos, so I need not have worried. This makes the sound far more palatable, even on the the band's most outre work Facelift.

The album features everything but Moon In June from Third, all but one track of Fifth,  and some great improv pieces. Dean's reeds are fabulous of course, and Marshall and Hopper are a rhythm section to die for, and all in all this is a fabulous live album.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

2017 - A Year In Review

Gimme live meat, now

Well, that's another year over, and the Matrix, which went "RAAAWWWWGGGGGHHHH!!!" before projectile-vomiting several handfuls of nuts and bolts across the cosmos in the middle of 2016, is still waiting for the repair man to call it seems. However, life goes on and the never ending broiling sea of music keeps on rising, threatening my meagre flood defences. It's time to make A LIST, which I have been told is a pointless exercise, and it most probably is, but it satisfies the urge to scratch at an OCD itch or two.

There follows said LIST, in rough chronological order of release. Not so much a "Best Of", as there are doubtless glaring emissions, even within the small dusty musical corner I inhabit, but more a round up of the better albums that have come my way during 17th year of the 21st century. Those I like the most are highlighted by one, two or even three glittering asterisks, and I may even tell you what my Album Of The Year is at the end, not that you should care, of course!

For those that do the streaming thang, there is a Spotify playlist below, which covers most if not all of the gnarled beauties mentioned herein. Links to reviews in the titles, as ever. Spark up a big one, pull up the comfy chair, beckon the cat to your lap, and settle in...

*Knekklectric - For Mange Melodia
This came out back in January on Norway's always interesting Apollon Records label, but I've only just noticed it, and I'm glad I did. These tongue-twistingly named denizens of Ålesund play dense art-rock-pop of a very high quality indeedy. Check it out!

Tohpati Ethnomission - Mata Hati
Wonderfully diverse sounds. A truly global album that serves to highlight the futility of national boundaries, lines on maps that only exist if you want them to.

*Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis - The Stone House
The first of two instalments this year from the fusion ensemble's corruscating marathon improv session recorded in 2016. Never a dull moment.

Eat Lights Become Lights - Nature Reserve
Shake the chalk dust out of yer bouffant and put yer Krautslippers on, baby-o...

**iNFiNiEN – Light at the Endless Tunnel
OK, it came out on Bandcamp in November 2016, but the CD release date was 1st February 2017, so that will do for me. What can I say? A band to rival Bent Knee in adventurousness and scope. Bloody marvellous!

Aquaserge - Laisse ça être
Mon aéroglisseur est plein d'anguilles. Slippery fun! :)

Juxtavoices - Warning: May Contain Notes
Choirs were never like this in my day.

Mouse on the Keys - Out of Body (EP)
Jerky modernistic electronica and trickery that will make your knees twitch, on a right little tease of an 18-minute EP that will leave you entirely unsatiated.

Tim Bowness - Lost In The Ghost Light
In which Tim fully assumes the mantle of Prog's Torch Singer. It is all getting a bit too slick for me, but Tim more than deserves any long overdue success that comes his way.

*Stefano Giannotti & Salvo Lazzara – La vostra ansia di orizzonte
This beautiful piece of art is certainly progressive, but not in the slightest prog, and has a timeless quality that will ensure its shelf life is considerably longer than the usual suspects that will occupy the top end of Best Prog Album lists this year. Making clever use of sampled found sounds, free jazz instincts, classical arrangements and an ear for the melodically unusual, without ever being strident, I find this album fascinating. It will probably sell about a 10000th the amount of those previously mentioned albums, more's the pity.

Along with Juxtavoices, the most experimental offering here.

Orange Clocks - Tope's Sphere 2
They bombed Higham Ferrers' chippy during the war, and this is East Northants' revenge on the dastardly Hun. Possibly.

The Hadron Big Bangers - flAsh
It barks and howls, and lets off firecrackers in your bathroom.

Jumble Hole Clough - Go and play quietly by yourself
The ever-prolific Colin Robinson gets all whimsical in his lonesome funky shed, oop narth, 'appen.

The Bug vs Earth - Concrete Desert
An odd pairing - ultra-modern sound manipulator The Bug, known for experiments in dub, grime & dancehall, whatever those last two are, and drone-metal (nope, me neither) guitar slinger Dylan Carlson team up for a dystopian cinematic instrumental album inspired by J G Ballard depicting the end of days in an alien and alienating Los Angeles. Nice it isn't, and you can almost taste the petrol fumes. Depicts what it says on the tin.

*Karda Estra -Infernal Spheres
Richard Wileman's vehicle for his singular classically inspired progressive music making just keeps on giving.

Big Hogg - Gargoyles
Some big Scottish fun in among the furrowed brows to jolly up this LIST. Frankie Miller and Alex Harvey would approve.

*Pat Mastelotto & Markus Reuter - FACE
This is nothing like prog, but FACE is as close to prog as these two are ever likely to get.

Markus Reuter featuring SONAR and Tobias Reber - Falling For Ascension
Markus with Sonar as his backing band do the incremental bop with all the icily intellectual style you would expect.

Miriodor - Signal 9
A classy and intricate listen, as you would expect from the long-running French-Canadian troupe.

*AKKU Quintet - Aeon
The modern tradition of Swiss minimalist jazz fusion continues with this band, who take as long as it takes to get from A to B, as it should be.

**Cheer-Accident - Putting Off Death
Another long-running band who are not the slightest bit perturbed that fame will never come a-knocking, and continue to make their own inimitable sounds. "Adventurous and accessible" say I.

***All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War
Marvellously unhinged swamp rock, from Nashville of all places. My mate Shawn sez this is "a gloriously groovy mindfuck". Yup, that's about right.

Thinking Plague - Hoping Against Hope
Wilfully individual furrows ploughed by Mike Johnson's far-flung veteran avant rockers for the pleasure of us miscreants and misfits the world over. There's a 14-minute avant-epic entitled A Dirge For The Unwitting on have been warned.

Richard Barbieri - Planets + Persona
Video of the Year, filmed in 360° - see below. The album is none too shabby, either!

*O.R.k. - Soul Of An Octopus
The multi-national underground supergroup return with a second album of heavy alt-pop-prog.

Machine Mass - Machine Mass Plays Hendrix
A brave move from Belgian guitarist Michel Delville's adventurous band, which pays off handsomely by tearing up the rule book.

Richard Dawson - Peasant
Folk music's Scott Walker equivalent channels ISB and Robert Wyatt in a sprawling tale of grubby survival in the Dark Ages.

The Bob Lazar Story - Baritonia
Matt Deacon has a febrile musical imagination, and each album he makes is better than the last. His music is the one aspect of his life where his delusional rantings are put to good use. ;)

Toby Driver - Madonnawhore
Ghost whispers of Catholic guilt crowd the fragile air. As they do...

Valdez - "This"
Classy Rundgrenesque art-pop from Simon Godfrey and members of Echolyn. Very good indeed.

**Nick Prol & The Proletarians - Loon Attic
The kitchen sink gets smashed to pieces by a troupe of restless gibbons and is then reassembled by a previously unknown tribe deep in the Amazon jungle, who while they know nothing of modern plumbing aids, have an ear for a catchy tune.

***Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Norwegian progressive iconoclasts make "pop" album shock horror!!! Well yes, but it's much, much more than that, and unlike the other ironically far more popular nominally pop convert further down this list, The Assassination of Julius Caesar doesn't sound remotely like anything they've done before. This is what progression sounds like.

ZU - Jhator
Meditative ur-rock for the furrowed brow.

**Mew - Visuals
There was a time when I couldn't put this band down, but she had a fling with a producer, and we drifted apart a long time ago. In fact the last album I bought by them was the fabrous And The Glass Handed Kites, way back in 2005. Visuals is only the third album since then, but a relative flurry of activity in the unhurried world of Mew has now resulted in two albums in as many years. Steady on, chaps! Their muse is obviously mining a rich seam, and the care and craft lavished on this great record pays good dividends. Scandi-pop hasn't sounded this good since A-ha.

**faUSt - Fresh Air
Very long-running Brit panel comedy show Have I Got News For You recently featured Jean-Hervé Peron as one of four suspects in its "Odd One Out" picture round, which was a surprise, as was the vibrancy of this album released back in the summer. Jean-Hervé was playing symphonies on a cement mixer in the quiz show picture, as well he might.

**Arve Henriksen - Towards Language
More elegiac trumpet playing from the Norwegian master. Sublime.

Schnauser - Irritant
Scratch, down a bit...left a bit...that's it! This album satisfies a need for quirky invention combined with hummable choons. What's not to like? Maybe the cover, which much like their previous long player, is deliberately hideous.

Mumpbeak - Tooth
He loves his clavinet, does Roy Powell, he rather likes his Hammond too.

The Universe By Ear - The Universe By Ear
Noisy Krimsoid blooze in spirit, where thankfully the 12-bar is never once troubled for a light on this fine debut.

**Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere - O3
This album is MASSIVE, a sprawling trip into Krautrock influenced rock improv the likes of which you won't hear bettered at this moment in time and space. Now available through Bandcamp.

**The Mark Lanegan Band - Gargoyle
Mark's croonsome baritone sashays through some killer tunes with a swagger in its step and just a hint of menace. Which is nice.

Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life
Charming and occasionally tantalisingly complex, this is chill out music for lesser boffins, thus avoiding headaches caused by wilful degrees of difficulty.

Dusan Jevtovic - No Answer
Thoroughly modern jazz fusion that will cauterise your ear hairs.

**Bent Knee - Land Animal
The unjustified stick this band get from the more conservative corners of the Progwelt is symptomatic of how the majority of prog fans just can't handle innovation and difference, a delicious irony indeed. Or maybe their dismissive attiude arises because Bent Knee may appeal to music fans away from our particularly obsessive corner, or even possibly that like some of their compatriots in the "Scene That Isn't" - I'm thinking Moe Tar, Half Past Four, iNFiNiEN, to name but three - they have a forthright female as a front-person? Hmmm...

Anyway, Land Animal is maybe over-ambitious and tries just a tad too hard, and for me doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of previous album Say So. For all that it conforms to the cliché "More ideas in one song than most bands have in entire albums", especially so those in the prog pond, and MOJO magazine are probably right when they said in their review of the album that "If prog rock has a future then Bent Knee are surely it".

***Elder - Reflections of a Floating World
ROCK! Fuck, yeah!

**Laura Marling - Semper Femina
The supremely talented Ms Marling iterates once more on the feminine condition in that alt-folk crossed with Lou Reed way of hers. Still only 27 and now on her sixth album, had she been a baby boomer she'd be as internationally revered as Joni Mitchell. A perfect record for a hot summer afternoon.

The Tangent - The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery
I've listened to the new Tangent offering...all of it, which must say something. I quite like it in parts, it has a very sub-Zappa/fusion groove, and is much less deliberately proggy ("proggy"...did I just say that? Damn and blast!) than some of their output. Not only that, but Andy's idiosyncratic singing is almost passable! His righteous political ranting hits the spot too. There are not many on the all too cosy prog sofa who tell it like it is, regardless of how many fans they might alienate. Which hopefully won't be too many for in order to truly appreciate art as well as to make it you need an open mind, one that is accepting of diversity and of course, you must have a love of creative freedom. All of which excludes the closed mind of the conservative thinker, he says, naively...or provocatively. ;)

Anni Elif - Edith
Norwegian singer-songwriter plays jazz-inflected dark electronica. Which hardly begins to sum up this captivating album.

Papir - V
Danish metronomic space rockers hit precisely calculated musical peaks with guitars. QED.

Peter Perrett - How The West Was Won
The unlikely return of rock's lost poet is everything I dared to hope it would be. We should all be grateful he's still capable of walking the walk and talking the talk.

Discipline - Captives Of The Wine Dark Sea
An engaging and involving art-rock excursion from long-running American band. And no, it doesn't sound the slightest bit like Van der Graaf Generator...ok, maybe a teeny bit.

***UNKLE - The Road: Part 1
The electronica giants' first album for seven years is essentially a James Lavelle solo album "featuring", as is the wont of modern pop, a whole load of disparate folk from all walks of modern alt-pop music. This makes the record a stylistic mash up of electronica and all kinds of modern rock(ish) and pop. It is a mess, but oddly it works, as it is all loosely thematically linked by spoken word "Iters", the first of which sets the the tone with actor Brian Cox's "Have you thought about the mistakes you made?", no doubt a self-referential nod by the author to his extended burial under a vast snowfield of coke following his initial brush with success. Quite a compelling work, all told.

Steven Wilson - To The Bone
"There's only one thing worse than being talked about, and that's not being talked about", which I believe was one of Wilde's. Mr Wilson was never in any danger of not being talked about, even if he hadn't made a nominally "pop" album. Everything changes, but essentially stays the same...apart from THAT song, which is actually rather good. Enough, already.

**Hammock - Mysterium
The very sad backstory of this album lends weight to Hammock's already signature sound depicting "despair at the gates of ennui" translated into music. Inappropriate jesting aside, this is as near to a perfect expression of grief and its aftermath through music as you are likely to hear this or any other year. I wouldn't recommend playing this straight after Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree.

Like All Them Witches, Hammock are based in Nashville, which obviously has far more going for it that us outsiders might assume.

**My Tricksy Spirit - My Tricksy Spirit
Dub gamelan summer trippin' the heavy fantastic!
(Note - Weird timing tags make this impossible to post individual tracks to the Spotify playlist, but there's a link to Bandcamp streaming in the linked review)

*Wingfield Reuter Sirkis - Lighthouse
Second instalment of sizzling improv from masters of the craft. See second entry in this list for the first.

***Motorpsycho - The Tower
The Norwegian space travellers turn up in Laurel Canyon, put CS&N on a rocket ship and fire it at the sun, among other groovy things. A simply massive album!

**Inner Ear Brigade - Dromology
Primal and odd, and a must-listen!

Trojan Horse - Fukushima Surfer Boys
There's a worrying amount of releases in this list from that nefarious Lahndahn label Bad Elephant Music, but contrary to your admittedly justified suspicions I haven't been threatened, nobody called Elliott 'as 'ad a word, 'onest guv. Actually, none of them are Cockneys as far as I can make out, which ruins my modern day Fagin analogy. Bastards.

French TV - Operation Mockingbird
One of a handful of yer actual prog albums on this here list...yes, it may be referential, often way too complicated for its own good, and occasionally hard work, but if like me you like to take a trip down that peculiar road now and again there aren't any better guides than Mike Sary's wilful troupe. They don't make hunting down sample tracks too easy, so you'll have to trust me on this one!

**Charlie Cawood - The Divine Abstract
The young musical polymath astounds with the scope of his vision. That sounds pretentious, I know, but such hyperbole in this case is merited. It's been a good year for Bad Elephant Music and this album may well be the best of the year for the label.

*The Knells - Knells II
A really inventive album, and probably the best example of "voices as instruments" you'll hear this year. Combining a classical choral section with progressive rock instrumentation isn't a formula you'd expect to work, but it does. Unfortunately my old curse of perfect pitch means I find the harmonies occasionally rattle my finely tuned aural sensibilities, but I guess most wouldn't notice!

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Adios Señor Pussycat
Ever since arriving on the scene a somewhat staggering 37 years ago, Michael Head has found writing winsomely effortless tunes tinged by a life of increasingly hard knocks as easy as scoring in a dark alley somewhere in Liverpool. His is the story of the blues, as another Scouser would have it.

Courtney Swain - Growing Pains EP
The hugely talented Ms Swain makes her second foray into this list with a solo EP of alt-torch singer fare, reminiscing and emoting in her trademark swooping style with just her own piano playing for accompaniment, occasionally joined by a string trio. We are not worthy.

LEF - Hypersomniac
Dystopian concept album partly inspired by The Wall, with accompanying animated comic book.

Peter Hammill - From The Trees
A stripped-back musical frame supports more of the author's reflections on the passing of time and the realisation of mortality. Seemingly effortless class from simply the best lyric writer of the original generation of underground musicians who begat progressive rock.

GRICE - The Grey of Granite Stone (EP)
Delightfully crafted post-rock-pop with a classy supporting cast including Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen. Hopefully, this serves as a teaser for an album.

Well, that was 2017...apart from...

Some re-releases/archival releases:

Radiohead - OK Computer - OKNOTOK 1997 2017
Has it really been twenty years?

The band's appearance at Glastonbury back in June made many of us go on a 'Head binge in the days following. I have said many times that pop is often more progressive than prog, and Oxford's miserablists in chief are prime evidence. OK Computer when it came out was light years ahead of the dreary Britpop it succeeded, and it was the album that launched the band into unlikely global mega stardom, something that did not sit easy on their undernourished narrow shoulders. Try as they might with the two albums that followed they couldn't shake off their by then huge fanbase, and they remain about the only band I can think of that can foist formless noisy experimental deconstructions on the masses and get away with it. They're not bad at choons too, which helps.

Gentle Giant - Three Piece Suite
Frankly, if you don't like Gentle Giant, you don't really like progressive rock music, do you? Here, the Man In The Expensive Retro NHS Specs remakes and remodels the album's worth of master tapes that still exist from this class act's first three LPs, and the results are simply stunning, both in 5.1 surround sound and in the new stereo mixes.

Frank Zappa - Halloween 77
Uncle Frank gets up close and personal over three discs of delightfully perverse live music.

Gig of the Year:

I have never understood the fan mentality, where proclaiming that you've seen Tommy Winkle's Tumescent Trouser Sausage live 124 times is a final call in a pissing contest. I may have seen a few favourites live a handful of times, but I would far rather see a band I've never seen than one I have already seen. The proof of that is that seven out of the mere ten gigs I went to in 2017 were first timers. Having said that my gig of the year is not one of those, but shockingly a third timer - does that make me a fan? Heaven forfend! However, it  was the first time I have ever seen a band in another country, and Magma with the Mekanik Orkestra at the splendidly appointed Paris Olympia on a surprisingly mild 2nd February night was a marvellous experience. I thought at the time that the concert was unlikely to be bettered in the year then yet to come, and I was right.

A few gigs came close - All Them Witches, Motorpsycho, and Ulver were all first timers and all enthralling in their own way, and North Sea Radio Orchestra were sublime, as ever. I regret missing Elder, and hope there might be another opportunity in the future. While low on quantity, 2017 was certainly high in quality, gigs-wise.

2016 Albums That Got Away:

Shaman Elephant - Crystals
Heavy riffage takes a bucketload of all the right drugs and goes "wibble". Smashing!

Richard Pinhas & Barry Cleveland - Mu
Kosmiche rumble...

Jumble Hole Clough - This Salty Armada
Mr Colin Robinson, back in the shed again.

Mercury Rev - The Light In You
This came out in 2015, and I only found out about it in January this year! Criminal, considering it's probably their best since the career pinnacle that was Deserters' Songs all those years ago.

Kontroversy Korner:

Same old thing you've heard from me too many times already I shouldn't wonder...

We all know how prog fans hate change, ironically enough, and it will be interesting to see how they take to Big Big Train's much anticipated change of direction and their soon come Earth Wind & Fire-styled disco album, which rumour has it is all down to singer David Longdon's long closeted Maurice White obession. Mirrorballtastic!

Irony Bypass of the Year:

Pugilistic ex-Pink Floyd bass player and righteous Trump baiter Roger Waters advertised his UK tour back in October, with tickets starting at an eye-watering £100. The tour was billed as "Us + Them". Sigh...

Album Of The Year:

Music is not a competition, so put that in yer pipe. If a gun was pointed at my head, it might be All Them Witches' fabulous racket...or any of the others I gave three shiny asterisks...heck, I don't know!

Well, that's it, then, apart from this...

Schroedinger, you know, he of cat fame; I'll bet had he been around at the time would have been a mahoosive prog fan, probably inclined towards impossibly complex theoretical quantum prog. He would have hummed Henry Cow's Terrible as an Army with Banners in the shower, that one.

If I may, I will posit the theory of Schroedinger's Prog Album. If I ignore the annual 706 albums of mostly regressive and anally retentive nonsense that block up my auditory pipes, then they do not actually exist in my universe.

Therefore, no longer do I have to worry about never getting around to reviewing Galadriel's Tumescent Tapeworm's pointless epic The Boy, The Unicorn, and The Bearded Clam Shed...or even Stevie Boy's Boney Thing. Ipso factum, QED, and indeed, wahey!

Ah, the relief! This is lower colonic irrigation for the soul, you really should try it.

That really is it, and finally..Thank you, kindly...

Thanks must go out this year as every year to anyone who puts up with my raving and occasionally salient verbiage both in the imaginary world where I am a lickspittle to Lester Bangs, and the real one, where I am simply a grumbling old scrote. Anyways...have a spiffing Yuletide and we will meet on the other side, to shimmy some more.

Also, a special hail thee well (virtually) met to my American Farcebook mate Shawn Dudley, who apart from gifting his ongoing photographic diary of the American Fantasyland he lives in....that's L.A. to us mere mortals, has this year, knowingly or otherwise reintroduced me to the RIFF, and thereby to righteous rock'n'roll. In this list those two essential ingredients are supplied mostly by All Them Witches and Elder, two American bands I would probably have let zoom by unnoticed were it not for Shawn's insistence. Ta, muchly! :)

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The MOJO CD - 2017 The Best Of The Year

The first of the year's "best ofs", for some reason MOJO's CD contains a couple of tracks from reissues, as if there isn't enough new music to fill the 80 minutes of the disc, which of course is nonsense. As usual it is a largely populist-centric shiny disc, with a few obscure albeit mainstream entries for that "hip" factor, and as ever there are some glaring omissions. Even if we forget my home in the more esoteric hovels at the end of the rock spectrum, why no UNKLE, or Laura Marling, for starters? Anyway, here goes...

The War On Drugs - Pain
Possibly the worst band name currently extant? Actually despite the title this is quite pleasant, in a diluted electrified Waterboys stylee.

Songhoy Blues - Bamako
The funky afros git down. Not bad, at all.

Paul Weller - Satellite Kid
Paul Weller is 60 next year.

Ghostpoet - Immigrant Boogie
The heaviest thing here, musically and lyrically, it lurches along while the main man imagines the unimaginable plight of refugees marooned at sea. Easily the best track on this compilation.

Sparks - Unaware
Sparks are one those very few bands who get better with age. A song about the crushing ennui of modern living that awaits a wee innocent babby.

Nadia Reid - Right On Time
Everton 1980s midfielder Peter Reid's daughter sings a song about a last minute winner against Wimbledon that kept the team up, to an avant-metal backing. Or...a song from MOJO's No.2 album of the year that is pleasant enough, as it dream-pops along. 10000 Maniacs did this kind of thing decades ago, but hopefully it resonates more within the confines of the album.

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Hungry Ghost
"Hurray"? Wassat, then? A decent lively guitar pop number, but nowt to write home about to be honest.

Peter Perrett - An Epic Story
No-one is more amazed that Mr Perrett still walks among us than Mr Perrett himself, it seems. Here, he sings a touching love song to his wife, without whom, etc... How The West Was Won is a classy album that shows the louche Only Ones front man still writes a pithy lyric.

This Is The Kit - Hotter Colder
Murky African-sounding folk moves by Kate Stables that would have benefited from a cleaner production, or any production at all come to think of it. Another one that floats by without making much of an impression.

Endless Boogie - Back In '74
I have no idea if this is typical of this band, but to me they sound like a swamp rock version of The Doors with an earnest "singer" narrating in sub-Jimbo fashion about watching Kiss in 1974 while flying kites on bad acid, and getting bottled for having shaved eyebrows. Nope, me neither...
Underneath is a decent retro-rock soundtrack, although All Them Witches would make gumbo stew out of this lot.

Alice Coltrane - Er Ra
Timeless psychedelic devotional goodness with harp, from MOJO's Reissue Of The Year.

Julie Byrne - Natural Blue
Dreamy folk, nice but inconsequential.

Lal & Mike Waterson - Shady Lady
The second reissue on this compilation. Bluesy rootsy folk, with strained harmonies, as I'm sure you know. I prefer the Iron Butterfly song of the same name.

Richard Dawson - Ogre
Ramshackle seven-minute left-field folk epic. Reminds me of Kevin Coyne. At least it's a tad different.

Oumou Sangaré - Yere Faga
A brooding Malian dance number about suicide. Yeah, baby! Actually, it's rather good.

All in all, a disappointing disc that gives the impression it was rather thrown together at the last minute without a lot of thought. Usually, MOJO's end of year round ups while being more mainstream than my usual fare, often include some interesting sounds new to me that require further investigation. With the possible exception of Richard Dawson, not this time, I'm afraid.

5/10 - must try harder.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Frank Zappa - Halloween 77

Halloween 77 is an unusual box set containing all six concerts that were filmed for the Baby Snakes movie, with all the music in high-res WAV on a USB stick, and a Zappa Halloween costume and mask. Or, for those of us with more sense than money and no desire to have six concerts with the same set list, a mere 3-CD version of Uncle Frank's celebration of that lovely American cheesy horror fest and primary school bullies' night out Halloween at The Palladium, NYC, containing the whole set from the 31st October show.

A collision of extraordinary musicianship and occasionally toe-curling non-PC, some might say mysoginist lyrics that defies categorisation, Halloween 77 showcases a band that are drilled to perfection, and the musicianship on display here is of the highest quality. Thankfully the worst of the lyrics are only a minor intrusion into this gargantuan musical feast, and even the base scatalogical humour of the lyrically cringeworthy Punky's Whips is eventually overshadowed by some mesmerising musical derrring-do. Mind you, the less said about Bobby Brown Goes Down, the better. Shut Up, and Play yer Guitar, indeed. Incidentally, listening to the intro of this version of Punky's Whips makes you realise where the roots of the then unknown second guitarist and all-round Zappa foil Adrian Belew's 80s Crimson classic Indiscipline came from.

The first Zappa album I bought new was Zoot Allures in 1976, and most of that album is included in the set list. Black Napkins has always remained my favourite Frank Zappa guitar excursion, and, daft as it sounds its inclusion here was the main reason I bought this triple CD set. There is also a half-hour long (!) version of Wild Love from Sheik Yerbouti, most of which was recorded at marathon sessions thinly disguised as rehearsals for these gigs, although the album itself was not released until 1979.

Boy, could Frank write a tune, as well as being a great entertainer, witness Halloween Audience Participation Time, aka "A re-enactment of the sum total of human civilisation" which includes a blast at Warner Bros. Records, whom Frank had acrimoniously left not long before, and audience members administering discipline to each other on stage. It ends with Frank as ringmaster getting the entire audience to attempt to dance to the impossible time signatures contained within the otherwise straight 4/4 of The Black Page #2.

The final CD is mostly given over to the half-hour long encore, which brings the set up to the three-hour mark. You don't often get bands doing that nowadays, and you can see why Adrian Belew in his brief but amusing and informative essay in the otherwise overly slim and less than comprehensive CD booklet reckons Zappa was the hardest working musician he ever played with, Adrian eventually coming off stage with "that happily-drained feeling, no more to give...". The encore includes the aforementioned Black Napkins, so, I can't hear you asking, "was it worth wading through the rest to get here?" Too damn right, it was!

After the encore comes the Bonus Section, basically a few extracts from the other five shows and a further near half hour of classy music and Zappa's larking about. There's more comedic audience participation with a dance competition for those who freely admit to being a "chump" and are "definitely unco-ordinated", as the previous night's contest had been for those with "no natural rhythm". No more spoilers, go find out for yourself.

Halloween 77 is without a doubt one the most important archival releases of the year, and even if, like me, your ventures into the wild and wacky world of Frank Zappa are only fleeting, I recommend it highly.

"Just remember one thing...rock'n'roll is totally preposterous"

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The MOJO CD - Neu Decade

This month the MOJO cover CD features sounds from across Western Europe that contributed to the musical zeitgeist that serenaded David Bowie during his brief stint in the German capital in the later years of the 1970s, to tie in with their feature article on Mr Jones' time in Berlin. Twelve of the fifteen tracks are German and the CD forms a loose collection of the less obvious Kosmische Musik of the times, less obvious because more than likely licensing issues prevented the use of the usual suspects. This makes it far more interesting than it might otherwise have been, and Neu Decade seems at times like a trawl through the lesser played slabs of vinyl in my small, yet perfectly formed Krautrock collection.

Developing free from the constraints of a deeply ingrained blues and latterly, rock'n'roll heritage, these bands and artists naturally ventured well beyond those base building blocks of all British and American alternative musical culture to forge something entirely new from the ruins of post war Germany, and beyond.  These musicians lived in a brave new world where electronics and keyboards often took precedence over the electric guitar, with a few very notable exceptions of course, and these pioneering sound technicians were boldly going where no ostensibly "rock" bands had gone before, and in that sense were making truly progressive music.

Michael Rother - Karussell
In keeping with the Bowie-in-Berlin theme it is fitting that the opening track comes from Deutschrock luminary Michael Rother, who was due to collaborate with Bowie in 1977, a pairing that unfortunately didn't come off. This track, from Rother's first solo album sounds like his former band Neu! with electronic motorik rhythms replacing Klaus Dinger's thunder.

Brainticket - To Another Universe
This multi-national band always gave the impression that they were powered by the choicest psychotropic drugz, as this dislocating voyage along misfiring synapses testifies. This track is lifted from the 1973 album Celestial Ocean, a fried trip recounting the "after-life experience of Egyptian kings traveling through space and time", and who am I to argue? Brainticket made much use of narration instead of singing, a gimmick that does wear a bit thin after a while. I can think of a modern band who should take note.

Amon Düül II - Fly United
One of the big names now... this track is lifted from Amon Düül II's 1973 Vive La Trance album. By then, the splinter group "II" from the original Amon Düül agitprop hippy commune had lost some of the more outlandish and experimental musical edge that gave birth to such masterpieces of unclassifiable lysergic wiggery as Phallus Dei and Yeti, but this song is still a fair representation of their loose acid rock vibe.

Can - Future Days (edit)
From the Cologne masters' new singles box set, Damo and the boys craft three minutes, twenty two seconds' worth of seemingly effortless sassy elegance. However, why bother with an edit when the full nine and a half minutes long version awaits you on the LP of the same name, I wonder?

Cluster - Dem Wanderer
Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius were perhaps the most bookish pair in Deutschrock...well, they were on a par with Schneider and Hütter at least. This intriguing example of what I can only term intellectual ambience from their marvellously rarefied 1976 Sowieoso album goes "sproing" in a fetchingly chin-stroking fashion.

Deuter - Der Turm/Fluchtpunkt
Primitive and experimental, this is what Deutschrock is all about. Listen to this free form piece of music from multi instrumentalist Georg Deuter and you can hear elements common to the early explorations of all the more well known bands that fall into this singularly individualistic category.

His first album, from which this track is taken was released in 1971 and is simply entitled D. It is something of a below-the-surface classic of the time, since when Deuter has gone on to amass a huge discography of exploratory music.

Guru Guru - Electric Junk
Apart from the later Roedelius track and the album closer, this is as close as anything on this album to rock music. But this is free rock music or ur-rock musik, as Mr Cope would put it. There are no rules, and after charging out of the traps, the LSD takes hold of the elephant as it wastes all before it. About halfway in the whole band decide...heeeyyy...let's talk about this, as they loll about on a burst sofa discussing the next move before a rolling bass line takes the tune down the road in the company of some fine Hendrix inspired wigout. Bloody marvellous! This is from their 1971 second album Hinten, part of a run of unmissable early albums you need to hear if you like having your mind fried by off the wall guitar music with seemingly no precedents.

The band are led by a wonderfully barking and very powerful drummer by the name of Mani Neumeier, whose Bonzo-on-acid tub thumping wanders up the garden path to Earthly Delights hand in hand with Uli Trepte's thunderous bass. The spearpoint of this unfettered power trio was a guitarist whose untramelled riffing and spiked soloing made for a whole that is a parallel universe Cream, born in a world were the twelve-bar had never been played. Also, the plank spanker has possibly the best name for a guitarist one could possibly wish for - come on down Ax Genrich!

Popol Vuh - Steh Auf, Zieh, Mich Dir Nach
Popol Vuh were formed in 1969 by classically trained pianist Florian Fricke, who, thanks to his rich family was one of the very first owners of a Moog Synthesiser. Depending on which source you believe, it allegedly cost up to DM800,000, and was probably the size of a small shed. Who said prog wasn't a middle class sport? Wanting to take his already reverential music in yet more elegiac directions, Fricke later sold his synth to Klaus Schulze, making him doubly influential in the instrument's beginnings.

This track is from 1975's Das Hohelied Salomos, the Vuh's sixth album, by which time Fricke's use of the synth is eschewed for a more organic and ethnic approach, with guest musicians playing sitar and tabla.

Roedelius - Am Rockzipfel
A later entry into the fray, this is from Roedelius' first solo album in 1978, and presents us with a very untypical bluesy chug that keeps on breaking down like it realises it doesn't quite belong in this universe. Satisfyingly odd.

Conrad Schnitzler - Die Rebellen Haben Sich In Den Bergen Versteckt (Schaltkreis Edit)
An early member of Tangerine Dream, and Kluster, the pre-Cluster group with Roedelius and Moebius that reflected the harder inital consonant in its steely-edged industrial soundscaping, Conrad Schnitzler went on to have a long solo career. His career-long experimental inclinations are present and correct on this sparse electro march of the robots from 1974.

Tim Blake - Metro Logic
The only Brit on this compilation, Tim Blake was of course a member of Gong, before escaping the mothership in 1975 to make some langorous synth music of his own.

Pyrolator - Danger Crusing
The next three tracks take us into the post-punk era. Pyrolator was ex-DAF member Kurt Dahlke, who here makes some almost friendly, yet icily creepy noise.

Richard Pinhas - The Last Kings Of Thule (Part 1)
Mavellously left-field French guitarist Richard Pinhas of Heldon fame should need no introduction if you've been paying attention, and here we have a track of typical brooding strangitude from the 1979 album Iceland, one I admit I have not heard before and will now be searching out.

DAF - Bild 4
Another entry from the post-punk years, DAF were a full-on music-concrete-with-a-punk-sensibility experience. This is from the group's feral 1979 debut album Ein Produkt der Deutsch Amerikanischen-Freundschaft. Uneasy listening to rattle yer fillings.

Tangerine Dream - Ultima Thule Part 1
Pick a tune to represent one of Krautrock's top six bands, in this case West Berlin's Tangerine Dream, whose Edgar Froese first used the words "Kosmiche Music" to define his and his peers' common ground, and it wouldn't be this VERY sub-Floydian throwaway debut single from 1971, that sounds like it should have been recorded in 1967. Still, a strangely neat end to an interesting CD, nonetheless.

As ever with these magazine CDs, there are some obvious and some not so obvious omissions. It is a shame that there is no Ash Ra Tempel from their early "guitar" daze, a band so out on limb they made Guru Guru sound like a completely rational proposition, but for anyone unfamiliar with all but the most well-known German rock of the 1970s this is not a bad compilation at all.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

When is a review not a review? When it goes Grrrrnnnnggghh, that's when...

This started out as a review of an album entitled Synchromysticism by a band of renegades calling themselves Yowie...

Apparently first used after an incident in Prague Castle in 1618 that initiated the Thirty Years War, “defenestration” is the act of throwing someone out of a window. This begs the question that, being Prague, it must have been spoken in Slavic tongue and therefore was not “defenestration” at all, but some semi-guttural utterance us pampered Anglos would have no hope of pronouncing. Anyway, nitpicking at the technical niceties of language while simultaneously having a dig at the limitations of Wikipedia aside, the drummist and de-facto leader of this band of American lunatics goes by the name of Defenestrator. If that isn’t a reason to review an album I don’t know what is, and boy, do I need a reason right now.

You see over the past couple of months I have lost my writing mojo, and no doubt that provokes a sigh of relief from you, dear long-suffering reader. In fact if you’re still reading this, you are one of only thirteen people worldwide who do not merely skim-read these missives, and for that I commend you. If I were giving out prizes you would get an overripe banana sent by elf piloted moose to any destination you choose. I'm not so you'll have to make do with feeling works for me!

Actually I haven’t so much lost my mojo – as this stream of liquid brown stuff proves – as I am increasingly despairing at the incessant tsunami of musical flotsam, jetsam, sewage, and worse, that rises in never-ending huge waves and breaks over the collective hard drives at Astounded by Sound Towers, falling away to leave behind piles of indistinguishable fare that 40 years ago would not have got much further than the limited imaginations of its creators. I include much-lauded name acts in this invective as I do the most unknown of amateur bedroom musicians.

The rock era is dead, there are no stars any more. Cynical exploitation knows no bounds and now includes tours of holograms of dead rock stars fronting bands of bewildered musos who must be wondering what the very fuck they’re doing there...oh yeah, it’s a wage, ain’t it? The latest of these farces, following on from the pioneering “Ronnie James Dio”, is the Zappa estate’s latest bid to kill off the career of the only true representative of the great man’s music, his son Dweezil, by way of a hologram of the icon fronting gawd knows who as a backing band. Whoever they are should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Next up, watch as the tour industry for actual living bands and musos dies on its feet as this new Frankenstein’s monster in the nostalgia industry eats up all before it in an orgy of race-to-the-bottom capitalismos, co-sponsored by the shiniest of regulation sidestepping teflon-coated taxi apps. Get driven to the gig, and possibly home if you’re lucky, but via the woods, by an un-vetted leering psychopath who puts up with being paid £2.31 an hour by his “employer”, because it gives him the chance to indulge his dark obsessions. Imagine said swivel-eyed dribbler delivering you to your favourite bar to watch “Frank Sinatra” fronting “The Sex Pistols” while you enjoy a hummus burger with mogo chips served on an upturned toilet seat. Actually, don’t imagine that at all, it’s not good for the soul. At the going down of the sun and between the jumpers for goalposts, it’s all our fault ultimately as “we” will head off in droves to watch these atrocity shows while real culture dies starving.

Oh...hang on...Synchromysticism by’s certainly different, to a point. They obviously love Ruins. I'll review it properly, later...maybe. To be fair to them, you can hear it all HERE.

That is all, now go and away and do something useful like hacking into the mainframe of a hologram projection company and turning all their holograms into Hitler...or summat.

Yours explosively, Roger McNasty

Sunday, 10 September 2017

V Ä L V Ē - #1 [the theosophical society]

With every other member of Knifeworld being involved in at least three other bands as well as having parallel solo careers, as musicians, DJs, and sword swallowers, it would be remiss of the Knives' resident bassoonist Chloe Herington to sit at home putting up shelves, don't you think? She did too, so with the help of "a spectacular array of rather fetching collaborators" adding saxophones, found sounds, and fragile electronica, this somewhat beguiling EP was produced.

It sounds like anything that required electricity to power it was plugged into a single socket in next door's garage while they weren't looking via stacked three-plug adapters, such is the tottering fragility of the music herein. Some say that avant garde music is often unnecessarily indulgent, and wilful for the sake of it, but this is another creature entirely, blown on the winds of a febrile imagination.

If I am forced to describe this music in two words, that epithet is "dangerously cute", or maybe "cutely dangerous". #1 [the theosophical society] is a taster for a forthcoming album rather discomfitingly entitled Silent Reflux, which despite the name I look forward to with heightened curiosity, pricked further awake by the appearance of a fully formed song in the last track here, lights. #1 [the theosophical society] has inculcated itself with that song, and I require more.

1. atmos #1 (6:18)
2. {da} FEM (3:14)
3. futures (4:27)
4. lights (4:24)

Total running time - 18:23

Line up:
Chloe Herington - voice, shelf, bass, melodica, percussion
Elen Evans - harp, voice
Emma Sullivan - microkorg, voice


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Colouratura - Colouratura

"Colouratura - n. elaborate ornamentation of a vocal melody, especially in operatic singing."

So says the dictionary, and thankfully we can ignore what follows the comma, but the rest applies.

An album made in small hours in their spare time by Nathan James, who wrote the music, and Ian Beabout who twiddled knobs in his fast becoming inimitable fashion, this unusual trip throws the genre book out the window. Over the course of its 50 minutes, a seamless journey split into definable songs or tracks for convenience, but playing as one piece, Colouratura in its first three tracks covers spectral if unsettling ambience, plaintive ballad and Faustian space rock, which gives an idea of the "scattergun set to stun" nature of this record.

The height of the realised songwriting on the album arrives on Sea Shanty, which sways along in proto-Procol Harum fashion before a middle eight that rides the swell in triple time. Nathan James is a fine singer with a good range and emotive scope, so much so that pernickety bugger that I am, I can even forgive him very occasionally going slightly wayward with the pitch (no doubt something to do with the yaw) on Sea Shanty as he gives his soul to "For what is a man, if he's not really free? And what is human without dreams and destiny?" What, indeed?

The title track is a love song accompanied by lone piano, and the obviously needed bridge of The Other Side takes us straight into the baroque-prog territory of Jekyll.Hyde, which puts me in mind of The Stranglers from their Meninblack phase. Enlivened by Dave Newhouse's sax, an air of menace permeates proceedings as Nathan's treated voice sings his fatalistic lyric to us. A degree of continuity brings us the suitably creepy Old Nightmares, introduced by a piano in a Gothic setting, and like a Hammer movie, the horror is with an element of cheese. "There are voices in my head, and I can't get them out, but I can't let them in...I think I'm losing my mind" our narrator tells us along with mentions of "the witching hour", "evil" and Vincent Price cackling. Mmmwwwhahahahaha...

In fact, from Jekyll.Hyde onwards Colouratura becomes more cohesive, as if the spirits have aligned in a world of Gothic pop, confronting death, war, and the big Questions, the latter ending the album in a punky charge as the sun comes up over the mixing desk.

All bases are, if not covered, at least fleetingly visited on this never-a-dull-moment album of after hours winding down (and up), and it has developed a life of its own along the way. "A labour of love, and it shows" says Ian Beabout, but warts and all this is a fun ride through two mates letting off steam at the end of stressful days out there in the increasingly insane "real" world. The Matrix is broken, and this is part of the soundtrack.

1. Cacophony (4:24)
2. Questions? (3:15)
3. Space Western (4:07)
4. Sea Shanty (6:55)
5. Colouratura (4:00)
6. The Other Side (1:22)
7. Jekyll.Hyde (7:57)
8. Old Nightmares (6:08)
9. Until You Slip Away (5:49)
10. Hymn (2:47)
11. Questions (3:14)

Total running time - 49:58

Line up:
Nathan James - voice, piano, bass, guitar, keyboard, percussion, ARP 2600
Ian Beabout - flute, treatments, narration, dragon breaths


Ryan Smurthwaite - guitar
Brandon Collins - drums, cajon, guitar, whistle
Dave Newhouse - woodwinds
Connor Reilly - drums
Evyenia Karapolous - voice
Damon Waitkus - guitar, slide guitar


Friday, 28 July 2017

The Fall - New Facts Emerge

New Facts Emerge is the 32nd album from that strange mental institution burning that goes by the name of The Fall. Led by Mark E. Smith, it is entirely probable that you or I is at least distantly related to someone who has been in The Fall, or at the very least is only three steps removed from a plucky musician with a career death wish to back Smith's by now embarrassingly random splutterings. They seem to be drawn to Smith like moths to a flame, and he has got through approximately 70 of the poor fuckers since crawling out of Prestwich with the first line up back in 1976.

Over the years this band has belted out some stonkingly classic records, and even now and well beyond their prime have until fairly recently managed to pepper their albums with blasts of righteous indignation that make the former fan such as I still occasionally part with readies for a shiny disc. Yes, we still buy CDs, for like Mr Smith we are now quite old. The last time I did this was back in 2008 for Imperial Wax Solvent purely on the strength of that marvellous old bloke empowerment anthem, 50 Year Old Man. That they actually played that song the last time I saw them live in 2011 was a minor miracle in itself as Smith's dictum has always been "Never look back", for which he can only be applauded.

Right...that's the good news. The bad news is that for a while now Smith seems to be doing little more than taking the piss, or letting it leak out, come to think of it. Coincidentally, the track I have playing right now is tellingly entitled O! Zztrrk Man, a title almost as unintelligible as the deliberately distorted and garbled (yarbled?) declaiming by the cult leader as he slumps in the darkest corner of the most downmarket cheap shit room imaginable, a two-thirds drunk pint of cheap lager next to his slumped head as it burbles incoherently into a pool of beer, drool, and fag ash. That about sums it up - Smith could make a recording of his bathroom noises and set it to the competent but uninspiring backing of his latest bunch of poor drone-slaves, and the regulation 19706 units would be shifted to the supplicants who will then declare it nectar from the gods to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately for them, some of us old fuckers still have our discernment faculties intact, fangyewverymuch.

OK, maybe it's not THAT bad - Gibbus Gibson is actually sung, after a fashion, and though I have no idea what he was singing about, it sounds vaguely melancholic, and possibly even self-reflective. Or is that hoping for too much? You see the problem is, much like the worst excesses of the obese and flatulent arse of prog rock, aka ELP, Mark E. Smith appears to have little or no self awareness, and seems to treat his audience with a similar lofty disdain to the 70s dinosaurs. Ironic that, doncha think?

By the time this grating record gets round to the last track, the almost prog-length nine minute Nine Out Of Ten, I just want it to stop, much like The Fall themselves. To think this sad spectacle once used to be genuinely cutting edge and singularly magnificent. Unfortunately, this album is nowhere near nine out of ten, and no new facts have emerged, it simply confirms my worst suspicions.
Bloody sad, really.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Jumble Hole Clough - Go and play quietly by yourself

Foreclose on the definite, obliterate all expectations. From the building blocks start anew. Reconnect the heart to the mind via the spidery funk line. Dangle a proposition and attach it to the running board of a runaway bus, for this is the start of a new adventure. The unknown is not un-named, it is Go and play quietly by yourself, the 758th album this epoch from Jumble Hole Clough, a possibly imaginary concept that exists both before and after Schrodinger opens his box in the troubled hamlet of Hebden Bridge yesterday. The tree fell in the forest, no-one observed it apart from Colin Robinson who wrote a tune about something else entirely called Skin & Hide that combined pop and the fractured dissonance of our troubled souls. "Goat and gland, Autonomy in hand, Don’t fill your ear full of sand".

Colin's work will engage your noggin as well as make you smile, possibly at one and the same time. This is the kind of multi-tasking I can cope with. Colin's hovercraft is always full of eels, which is probably why he gets few paying customers. Slippery blighters, eels, and some of these sprout wings and fly off dripping and shimmering before being sucked into the turbines of passing budget airliners, flying low to see if they can ascertain where all this goddam interference is coming from.

Can you send me one of Santa's Swearing Elves for Xmas?

You can get this sequence of noises HERE, and Colin invites you to Name Your Price. It would be good if you bought it for cash money, he needs a new shovel to bury all those dismembered eels that fell from the sky and landed in his front garden t'other day...

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Schnauser - Irritant

Madness, they call it madness...

In my fevered imaginings I would like to think that the annoyingly over-capable DIY Sturmführer Dick Strawbridge, he of the unfeasibly humungous moustache and loveable teddy bear persona was playing the Midi-kazoo for Schnauser, the wonderfully strange yet cuddly combo from Bristol, as they cavort around the stage playing Have You Got PPI?, a particularly loose-limbed number from their fabulously tumescent new album Irritant. In my peculiar fantasy, Dick looks proudly over to his son, guitarist and singist Alan as he belts out the wonky wonderfulness that comprises Schnauser’s weird yet perfectly self-contained universe, as strange tiny creatures synchronously writhe about in Dad's bristling upper lip hair monster.

In other news it turns out that "We are the brainworm" as the Nutty Boys play klezmer, and enquiries are made by chanting girl choruses asking "Have You Got PPI?" while a craftily purloined cheesy synth line from Bowie's Sound And Vision burbles away. Above all this lunacy, the melody is king and queen, and on the lilting but portentous Fail Better, the lyric implores the listener to get off their collective ass and try again. Failure may be the only option, but goddamn, do it better! A curiously fatalistic take on the Protestant work ethic that no doubt has crossed all our horizons at some point. On the other hand "Get yourself a life boy, get yourself a life girl" as the broiling sounds of wildly careening guitar, saxes and and noises off permeate the stately pace of the melody. Groovy feckers, this Schnauser band, who have caused my newsfeed to be inundated with adverts for the International Schnauzer Society, Alsatians For Jesus, and Poodles On Stumps, the bastards...the band, not the doggies, c'mon.

The club band at the local Latino Disco strike up here and there with a carefree joyfulness that flies in the face of the heavy manners of these perma-weird times. Hypertension is only displayed in the tune's title as this infectious instrumental does odd things with your pelvis. The album title is another misnomer, for this fab record is about as annoying as being given a full body massage by...insert your fantasy rubdown applier here. She or he is however suffering from a caffeine overdose, won't stop talking while chewing his or her bottom lip. It's a small price to pay.

A New Atmosphere is a snake-hipped bossa nova for dancers with at least two left feet. This thing schwings, baby, in a louche Hatfields kinda fashion, before briefly meeting 10:15 as it furtively leaves the bedroom, then subsequently descending to the bottom of the well, where workers go blind making mustard gas shells. There be an underlying seriousness at work, doncha know? They even get in a good old rant against the Bullingdon Bullies and turkeys voting for Xmas on The Monday Club, another musically satisfying trip through a series of vaguely familiar motifs, that as a whole make for the knee-flexing Schnauser Sound, ending like early Roxy swirling away down the plug hole.

It is over two and a half years since Schnauser's last album, the defiantly odd Protein For Everyone, and the Bristolians have refined their once fierce quirkiness into a gloriously fun experience. Irritant is just right for these surreal summer months as collective madness descends upon this benighted nation. The ongoing Schadenfreude Party is going to be a long one, methinks. All hail Supreme Leader Boris as we barf into our soup.

Sorry, got sidetracked there...Gleaning the influences that inspire this record is like lowering a net into an over-populated fish tank and coming up with a bewildering variety of writhing aquatic wildlife. This smorgasbord of delights is the combination of everything you can think of, from Cardiacs, through Madness, to Ivor Cutler via The Beatles and very early Daevid Allen/Kevin Ayers' Soft Machine, and on to Syd's Floyd, Berlin Bowie and XTC. As a result it cannot be pigeonholed for convenience.

Just give it a listen over on Bandcamp, for it bears bounteous gifts. Hopefully, this drooling missive might make you curious enough to buy it. Right. I'm off to join The Chocolate Labrador Motorcyle Club...

  1. Spiele Mit Katzen (4:21)
  2. Chinese Brainworm (Taenia Solium) (4:48)
  3. Re-Mortgaging The Nest Of Hair (4:12)
  4. Sorry, You Were Out... (1:24)
  5. Have You Got PPI? (4:44)
  6. How About A Kiss? (4:06)
  7. Fail Better (6:35)
  8. Hypertension (4:15)
  9. A New Atmosphere (8:22)
  10. The Monday Club (7:43)
  11. Speile-Jangle (Reprise) (2:17)
Total running time - ...about as long as a couple of very leisurely pints, or the time it takes Kat to saunter up the garden at 2:30am, catch, bring home and devour a luckless rodent, at the foot of our bed.

Line up:
Alan Strawbridge – guitars, vocals
Dino Christodoulou – tenor and soprano saxophones, vocals
Duncan Gammon – keyboards, vocals
Holly Mcintosh – bass guitar, vocals
Jasper Williams – drums, vocals

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Footnote: No YouTube video available for this album, though if you type "Schnauser Irritant" into YT's search engine the first vid is the instructional "How to keep your mini-schnauzer's beard unstained", which you might find useful. Glad to be of help.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

faUSt - Fresh Air

"All we fresh air in our brain" declaims the propulsive opening title track to this driven and tribal album, recorded on a tour of the USA in 2016, and Faust...or is it faUSt..., the rhythmic engine room of Krautrock are back on my radar after an absence of some years.

Seems like I have some catching up to do, as true to their anarchic spirit, there appears to be two versions of the band currently in existence. The version we find here, spelling themselves faUSt, no doubt after their long American connection, are steered by bassist and singer Jean-Hervé Peron ("") and drummer Werner Diermaier ("Zappi"). They are the most active of the two versions, having released a handful of albums since 2009, and they tour fairly regularly.

Fresh Air kicks off with the mammoth title track, which for the first half of its length is a dreamy synth-led ambient wander through a Polish translation of part of a work by French poet, painter, musician and performance artist Joël Hubaut entitled Put Put Epidemik, essentially an increasingly surreal list of the desires of the protagonist. The female narrator declaims "Chciałbym", or "I would like" followed by increasingly surreal pronouncements such as "antennas and jaws", or "eyes on the floor of my mouth", to name but two. The full translation can be found HERE. Eventually the band join in and establish a primitive and relentless but nonetheless hypnotic motorik rhythm, with accompanying distorted guitars and declamations, this time in English, on where we need fresh air. All quite bizarre, and so utterly Faust...or is it faUSt. To borrow John Peel's famous description of The Fall, this band are "always different, always the same", and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Here is a fabulous live set, filmed last year, featuring the line up from most of this album...

Actually when you get down to it, there is quite a similarity with The Fall apparent in many places on this record, the disinterested vocals of Barbara Manning on Lights Flickr, the general anarchic and uncompromising air, the joy in repetition, the surreal and declamatory lyrics, it's all there. Mind you it is no secret that MES is a big Krautrock fan, especially of Can, and one suspects, Faust.

The meaty rhythmic heft of Zappi and jhp is to the fore on Le Poulie, where the pulse of Neu! is given extra energy by righteous anger and ancient synthesisers. The chugging sax on Chlorophyl ends in free jazz territory, continuing into the beginning of the fast, noisy, and feral Lights Flikr, which for me is the album highlight, as Barbara Manning treads a nervous high tension line, telling us...

"Lights Flicker as I blink my eyes to the the beat, to the beat, to the beat
Of his oh so hot drum, I place my mouth over it
beat beat beat long strokes, wet
the words are like spit"

This is organic, shamanic, lustful, repulsive and propulsive, turning into a strange tale of exploding heads and parts of corpses found in the washing up. Marvellous!

Returning to the sea from whence all life came, Fish is strangely primordial and a warning to end the album, the protagonist praising the sea. "The Sea, the Sea, she is eternal, she saw you when you were a baby", but "She does not mind all the corpses of the refugees...she does not care about our futile problems", all to a familiar yet creepy Faustian drone.

Uncompromising as ever, faUSt...or is it Faust...continue their unmapped path to who knows where, least of all themselves. The journey continues to be thoroughly engaging, and the band who made The Faust Tapes well over forty years ago, and one of my top five favourite records of all time, continue to surprise.

1. Fresh Air (17:30)
2. Birds of Texas (2:30)
3. Partitur (0.22)
4. Le Poulie (6:37)
5. Chlorophyl (8:04)
6. Lights Flickr (5:39)
7. Fish (11:22)

Total running time - 52:07

Line up:
All of this is approximate and gleaned from the live video above...
Jean-Hervé Peron (aka "") - Bass, guitars, vocals
Werner Diermaier (aka "Zappi") - Drums
Maxime Manac'h - Guitar, percussion

Ysanne Spevack - Viola (1&7)
Barbara Manning - Vocals (3,5&6)
Beata Budkiewicz - Translation, Declamation (1)
Ulrike Stöve - Vocals (1)
Robert Pepper - Keyboards, electronics, vocals (1&7)
Ulrich Krieger - Saxophone (3,5&6)
Michael Day - Electronics? (3,5&6)
Braden Diotte - Electronics? (3,5&6)
Jürgen Engler - Vocals (4)

Bureau B.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Juxtavoices - Warning: May Contain Notes

Warning: May Contain Notes is the third release from Sheffield-based Martin Archer's Juxtavoices, described by Martin, quite succinctly I feel, as an "antichoir". While the largest proportion of the strange collage of sounds emanating from this CD derives from the large ensemble of human voices, this is not choral work in traditional sense.

If you arrive at this album having never heard Juxtavoices before, you may well be shocked, but also hopefully intrigued by its sheer otherness to indulge its excesses for a while. I am lucky for I knew what to expect, having already experienced their first album Juxtanother Antichoir From Sheffield some four years ago.

Juxtavoices is a large conglomerate of singers and performers from the Sheffield avant music and arts scene, and it includes both trained and untrained voices. Although the pieces they perform are scripted, the finer details of the works are improvised, with whistles, chattering, moans, whoops and hollers coming at you across the stereo spectrum in the most unexpected of places.

We start with Ascent which does just that, slowly climbing a metaphorical staircase to arrive at a rarefied summit. This album was recorded at various locations over a couple of years, and this first piece was recorded at The Golden Lion, Todmorden, which I can only assume is a pub. It must have made an odd accompaniment to a leisurely pint, is all I can say!

The music and texts of the pieces were contributed by four of the choir, and my one criticism of the packaging is that a lyric or text sheet is not included, nor as far as I can see is it provided via an online link, which given the labyrinthine and near-cacophonous nature of a lot of this album would have been a rather useful addition, even if space necessitated it being in highly truncated form. The PR sheet informs me that the compositions "include troubled seascapes, exploding islands, futurist wars, curious wordplay on the subject of aging disreputably, letraset abstraction, a reinterpretation of early Cabaret Voltaire recordings, and a terrifying ascent into the very jaws of hell". Indeed! you can probably work out which is which from the track titles.

There are so many layers and strands to these works that it will take several listens before you can have any familiarity with the album, which is why I have had this review copy for over four moths before I have been able to even begin to get below its extremely densely packed surface. A piece like An Imp Unity of Dyads, with its musical interjections from percussion, bassoon, glockenspiel, and concertina, contains righteous declamations, multi-voiced spoken words, snatches of song, chatter, and choral harmony, all seemingly reading from different scripts, yet sounding completely deliberate. A unity of two parts perhaps? I have absolutely no idea what it is all about, but it sounds like nothing else on Earth. Planned anarchy, if you will. As the album progresses it gets ever more abstract, and To You & Me, Krakatoa is as unnerving and as cacophonous as an exploding island. At least I understand this one!

The DVD is an essential part of this package, for the videos that accompany the pieces, put together by audio-visual contrarian Bo Meson do help one unravel some of the more baffling aspects of the CD, where one is left to one's own imagination. Ascent, with its treated colour negative collages of rockets lifting off, and in some cases exploding catastrophically, certainly upped the ante of my cerbral cortex while listening to that one again! We learn via newspaper clippings, adverts from the time and old newsreel that the highly creepy RMMV Asturias is a soundtrack to the maiden voyage and seagoing history of what was then, in 1926, the world's largest motorised ship. Or at least that's the gist of it, although quite how the frequent appearances in the video of a segment of a debt recovery letter fit in, I'm not sure.

The final track Western Works is Juxtavoices' interpretation of three early tracks by fellow Sheffield oddballs Cabaret Voltaire, whom every punker worth his or her bondage trousers will know for the superb alien disco smash Nag Nag Nag. Some of us even bought a couple of their albums back in the day. Needless to say, what Juxtavoices do with the Cabs' avant derring-do is as utterly different as it is fitting, given the source material. I will describe it no further, you'll just have to buy this very strange offering, and find out for yourself.

Tracklist - CD
1. Ascent (9:04)
2. RMMV Asturias (13:41)
3. An Imp Unity of Dyads (9:57)
4. Helvetica (15:25)
5. To You & Me Krakatoa (11:17)
6. Atavistic Ennui (10:29)

Total running time - 70:42

Tracklist - DVD
1. An Imp Unity of Dyads (9:58)
2. Ascent (9:02)
3. RMMV Asturias (18:21)
4. Helvetica (21:36)
5. Drawn From No Well (18:44)
6. Western Works (19:41)

Total running time - 1:37:22

Line up:
Julie Archer, Martin Archer, Jon Ashe, David Bartholomew, Ian Baxter, Mick Beck, Nathan Bettany, Geoff Bright, Chris Bywater, Clinton Chaloner, Julie Cole, Laura Cole, Emma Cooper, Paul Coupe, Edward Eggleston, Kat Fletcher, Sharon Gill, Alan Halsey, Matt Harling, Lyn Hodnett, Maria Kalnars, Christine Kennedy, Bo Meson, Tamar Millen, Geraldine Monk, Rick Moran, Liam Murphy, Tim Plant, Marion Rout, Liz Searle, Wolfgang Seel, Walt Shaw,  Jan Todd, Jane Tormey, Caroline Veal, Peter Veal, Linda Lee Welch, Gillian Whiteley.

Walt Shaw - Electronics and percussion
Nathan Bettany - Oboe
Mick Beck - Bassoon, tenor sax
Gillian Whiteley - Concertina
Martin Archer - Glockenspiel, baritone sax

Discus Music - Juxtavoices page
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