Table of Contents: Music


For Your Pleasure, 2016

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Comrades! Ugh. This year. But — yet — always — all year long — the weirdest, wonderful things shot through cracks. Blackstars in a black sky — absence has a pull of it’s own. And in this imploding year the void pulled hard, pulling beauty from random trajectories, shining bright —

A resurrected Modern English played the years best show. Embracing their strident, tribal, chanty early sound it was urgent & archival in equal measure. A column on world hardcore I read never led to the submerged sizzle of Barcelona’s Chroma. LA punk legend Alice Bag’s jukebox of received wisdom was pent up & aged for 30 years — every song a shimmy & taken together a shiny suit of armor for bright, headstrong girls everywhere. Angel Olson’s new record was the years most vital — in no way beholden to nostalgia, obscurity, revival, genre, or personal obsessions, not crate dug, not researched, not referenced – just a new, challenging, bracing salvo of ace tunes by a smolderingly gifted woman. Dig, friend, the smudge stick of oddball embroidered heavy boogie of Blood Ceremony & the aching dignity & yearning of the fallen Byrd, Gene Clark. Two unexpected & random reunion records stunned this year / Si Sauvage by Minneapolis’ fauvist sophisticates The Suburbs & SoCal hardcore legends Shattered Faith’s Vol III. The former sports the years best single tune & an gleefully pompous & sexy cover design by Kii Arens. From the latter I feature nothing because no digital form of the record exists. Genius gentlemen! But for LA punk nerds it’s a circa 81 time warp. Aces. Ah! the medicinal power of pure feyness! — swooning power-chorded sashay – teenage swoons unfurled like blazing wings on the roof of a burgundy Camero, lollipop lust, gymnasium passes, Milk n’ Cookies. Ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s translations of Serge Gainsbourg’s songbook provide technicolor details that were once just suggested by his louche croon. And the words are funny & lusty as hell.

Now, about the bookends — David Bowie’s death was the implosion that marked the beginning of the new year. I mourned here, and ruminated on the amazing Blackstar here. I kept coming back, though, to the live unhinged swoon of “Station to Station” from the legendary 1976 Isolar Tour. And Cortez? Well, it came on randomly one wrecked mid-November night, shuddering into focus & this whole aching tide of a song seemed to wash over the years dark closing days. Fade out. You can download the full compilation here.

Nicola

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Was poking around the internet looking for a hi-res cover for this Bert Jansch double album I was digitizing. On the original twofer CD it was the size of a postage stamp. Gorgeous piece of work when you can really take it all in, no?

Blackstar

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So, Bowies’ Blackstar arrived, finally — ordered while Bowie was earthbound, listened to when he wasn’t. Let me see if I can get this exactly right — it’s the first & last classic Bowie record since Let’s Dance.

Bowie played rock like Duchamp-ian chess. Each classic Bowie album occupied & held a square on the board. The records are “about” the move, so they work as self contained experiences — they point inward, ultimately.

This is why the whole “best album since Scary Monsters” critical framing misunderstands Bowie. Although he released some great salvos since Let’s Dance, they didn’t represent moves to a new square. Sometimes, like Earthling, he deftly rode a cultural or aesthetic wave, othertimes like Heathen or even The Next Day they were grand & vital reprises of old glories.

Blackstar is, before it is anything, a bracingly new statement. The avante-jazz hybrid he’s synthesized here is — once again, like all classic Bowie — an occupying move. The album refers, thrillingly, only to itself. There’s a new sound & vision here — skronky, sinewy, dubby… What a triumph!

Honestly, I was wary of listening, & crabby that I hadn’t the opportunity to hear it at at least once as the work of a living artist. I shouldn’t have fretted. Rather than a melancholy encomium, a stately funeral parade, it was the best & most unexpected gift of all — The last classic Bowie album: Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, Blackstar.

Turn and face the strange

English singer, musician and actor David Bowie, 1974. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There’s a reason when the news hits that so many of us instinctively reach out and gather our memories of first hearing ChangesOneBowie / Because that wasn’t a record, it was a door. A magic door. Here’s how it was magic. Because if you knocked on it, it opened easily, and you could go in and just boogie. But. But. If you pushed on it just right, if you were bent, just so, you tumbled through — and you never stopped falling. And as you fell, year after year, your freak flag just kept unfurling. And as you fell & flew you wondered — when do I get to the bottom? And there is no bottom. It’s just Bowie all the way down. Today every freak flag flies at half mast. Goodbye David Bowie.

For Your Pleasure 2015

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Live, before every song John Lydon gargles a mouthful of Bushmills then flamboyantly spits it into a large black trashcan. Male Gaze skronks out of the gate like Flipper doing disco. “Disco Flipper” is a pick-to-click shortcut for a win ’round here. Well played, gents. 45rpm LP, 28 minutes total. Brian Eno said his earliest musical inspration came from hearing the Supremes & Ronettes records broadcasting from US Navy bases. I like to think those scratchy transmissions sounded like U.S. Girls. Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began as a nervous breakdown, explodes like an estrogen fuled roman candle every time it’s played and is the best record of the year. So, then this Sparks/Franz Ferdinand record drops out of the sky like some glamtastic piñata. Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks. Dream Lover, I know — Oh shit, here comes the sun. A tame impala is medium-sized African antelope. They are diurnal, most active shortly after dawn & before dusk. They use various kinds of unique visual, olfactory and auditory communication, most notably laying scent-trails and giving loud roars. Did you miss the announcement that Helen Marnie of Ladytron self-released a solo album 2 years ago. Me too. She did. It’s aces. Sugar & spice & everything. The emergence – at last – of a new Chills record should be cause for celebration throughout the galaxy. Girls Names win this year’s Martin Hannett Pennant for Reconstituted Post Punk. It’s like french onion soup with me, this stuff — I have barely any critical distance & each spoonful is fucking delicious. Aparrtly the 16 yer old goth girl is still using my noggin as a hostel given my besotted affection for this years darkwave discovery Xmal Deutschland. Recommended to those who think Siouxie sounds better in the original German. I haven’t sown a rock patch onto a jean jacket in over 30 years. 20 small impalements later — Christian Mistress. Hella! Zombi? Zombi.

14 songs, total time 53 minutes. As ever, download the mix here

Lives of Others

MoranbongMembers of the State Merited Chorus and the Moranbong Band from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea arrive at a railway station in Beijing. More thoughts on the unsettling ratio of beauty & the dead weight of the state in an earlier post, here, regarding photographs of North Korea by documentary photographer Tomas Van Houtryve. Photo by Jin Liangkuai / CORBIS

Dalek, I Love You Too

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Another lesser known Hipgnosis design that I happened upon when researching the Bad Company Desolation Angeles cover a few posts below. The search begins…

The Chase

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A selection of stills & credits from The Chase a long forgotten overheated soap opera once described as “Peyton Place with guns.” I came across an old review of it in the New Yorker which described it as “ an opulent melodrama, overproduced, over plotted to the point of incoherence and over directed” — like that’s a bad thing. The fact that Jane Fonda had described it as “Barbarella comes to small-town Texas” was just icing. Well worth it, and as the stills show, a handsome affair – shot by Arthur Penn in pop art, hyper composed, oversaturated Technicolor glory. The same could almost be said for deliciously mannered performances by Angie Dickinson, Robert Redford & Robert Duvall. You also get to enjoy the singular spectacle of watching Marlon Brando become less & less & less interested in actually acting at all with every successive scene. Fascinating.

Bad Company / Desolation Angels

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The design group Hipgnosis has been justly & exhaustively feted for thier amazing psychedelic realist album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and other zonked heavyweights (an amazing gallery here, you could get lost for hours). I had no idea they were behind the artwork for Bad Company’s 1979 record Desolation Angels, which stopped me cold when I was crate digging one afternoon. It was strikingly clever example of that developing 80s graphic sensibility that found its apotheosis in Patrick Nagel’s work for Duran Duran. It has everything to do with the power of stark flat white throwing all other colors into hyper-bright neon-electric contrast — if cocaine could design album covers they would look a lot like this.

More Cake, Please…

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{RERUN: Originally Published Apr 1, 2009}
 In the crowded field of choice rock obscurities the Cake rank among the choicest. Musically they were a strange hybrid of Phil Spector-esque girl group, baroque folk, and weirdly medieval psychedelia – the Ronettes crossed with a a distaff Left Banke. Their considerable aura was further intensified by a wicked fashion sense and enough personal melodrama to out-beyond Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Besides their sonic adventurousness, the Cake is worth celebrating for the splendid design of their two sole records. The logo is a typographic masterpiece. Set in ornate hand crafted blocks and nearly square, each letter reads as both a decorative tile and as type. The motifs are a motley mix of psychedelia, Eastern European embroidery, and circus signage – a fine metaphor for the band’s composite sound. The sophomore record ups the ante with a splendid Carnaby street pop cartoon worthy of anything by Guy Peellaert or Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

After years of scarcity, Rev-ola finally reissued both records on a single CD with generously thorough liner notes that do justice to their sound and their story.

For your pleasure, some selections.

Baby That’s Me:

Rainbow Wood:

Annabelle Clark:

 

 

For Your Pleasure 2014

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The first thing I ever really used Napster for was to hunt down and assemble Brian Eno’s legendary lost vocal album My Squelchy Life, finally given official release this year.

Imagine a crinkled & warped VHS of 80’s 1-900 chat line commercials, porny aerobic videos, low-budget soft core, late night cable talk shows, with crackle on the tape, bad tracking, fuzzy scan lines & brutally oversaturated color and you have the feel of TOBACCO’s broken, cracked electronica. Unremittingly sleezy but yet so gorgeous & sexy I’ve spent the whole year fiddling with the tracking dial and not being able to look away.

All the usual camp trappings of oh-so-Morrissey-ness around the release of World Peace is None of Your Business — cancelled tours, bitter press sniping, a humdinger of a snit with new label Harvest that resulted in the album being withdrawn — obscured what a tremendous record it really was. If you told me this was a late period Smiths record from an alternate universe I’d believe you. If that sounds like heresy I don’t care — make mine Moz.

If you are predisposed, like me, to thinking ELO could use a little ABBA & ABBA use a little Van Der Graf Generator then I give you, again, after five long years — Music Go Music.

Perhaps six people total in the audience, battling a temperamental glitched out key-tar and yet for 30 minutes Scale Model inspired me to forget that I missed Berlin live this year on account of Hurricane Arthur.

Built from a lego box of identikit parts, every element & reference of the Bad Doctors’ synthed punk is obvious. And yet the ingredients never are the dish. I have yet to tire of a single song on this record.

I’ve been searching for the Fashion B-side Sodium Pentathol Negative since high school. How ace to find that the A side is also the nuts.

It never occurred to me that Goth deserved it’s own version of the legendary garage comp Nuggets. It does now. Killed By Deathrock Vol. 1 is a Rubic’s cube of bat-cave sounds — Let Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons charmingly spooky obscurity stand in for a record packed full of them.

Stumbled across Essential Logic at long last and the only word I can think of to describe them is fearless – tunes that owe nothing to anything other than their own self-willed need to exist. Punk not as a received sound & attitude but as a response to a challenge & a dare.

There is a permanent psychedelic transmitter on Mount Davidson in San Francisco. You can see it if you squint through two kaleidoscopes. So say the hippies anyway. I can hear it though, now & then and this year they spun a lot of White Fence.

Jim Roll is an old pal from my rekkid biz days. Over the past decade his restless avant-garde flecked Americana has widened & matured. Big heart, big brains, big star.

Every now and then I find myself thinking about RIOR cassettes, these little nostalgia bombs with those flat flood colors, multi-fold j-cards, and stubborn & doomed allegiance to the cassette format. One of the most coveted was the The Great New York Singles Scene compilation, showcasing debuts by Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell along with period salvos like US Ape, Theoretical Girls & the Mumps. Came across a digitized copy this year and for all the heavy history it was the ace single by Nervus Rex that rang my bell. Like a fling with an old flame, it reminded me of all the reasons I went gonzo for power pop to begin with.

I treasure Mary Timony’s every mood, cause every mood begets a tune. Her latest, Ex Hex, is, as she put it “…what your babysitters listened to, rumbling from the Kenwood in the basement.” Perfect. Think then, of each song on her new record, Rips, as darts thrown in that very same basement — short, sharp & feathered.

Arriving at last at the intersection of Xanadu & Gerry Rafferty the New Pornographers demonstrate that all you need for a spectacular return to form is an arpeggiator.

The years best show, hand down, was Hawkwind, fronted by 74 year old psychedelic warlord Nik Turner. Flanked by Barbarellas playing vintage synths & violins, with Nicky Garratt from U.K. Subs on guitar, the band didn’t play so much as channel transmissions from beyond the fringe; waves of sax & flute, pyramids & atlantis, sonic attacks & deep space, orgon accumulations & high zonk. I got to sing the chorus of Silver Machine with Turner. I grabbed the set list and when I got home I discovered it had Roky Erickson’s phone number written on the back.

(Front cover photo by Katch Silva, back cover Hawkwind at the Boot & Saddle, September 9, 2014 Etc: This year I kept the running time under the LP limit. It just seems a decent serving size. As a result, some other notables not represented — still in deep dub, lost in Record Store Day’s re-release of Lee Perry’s Super Ape, late this year started really digging Colin Newman’s first post-wire solo record A-ZShellac’s Dude Incredible was a barrel-full of monkeys; Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus tour was a highlight, as were shows by Damned & TSOL; More Chrome & Helios CreedThe Chills BBC SessionsSleaford Mods, Cleaners From Venus, Fingerprintz, Palmyra Delran, and when it’s time to clean the fishtank, Exploited.)

DOWNLOAD THE COMP, HERE.

Golden Years

Every time I look at these photos they light up my noggin like a pinball machine. I linger over them, careening from detail to detail, setting off little bright explosions of nostalgia, recognition, longing and sheer delight.

Some context… They’re snaps taken at a Sam Goody’s record store in mighty Paramus, New Jersey from about 1976 until 1980. They were taken by a friend of an old acquaintance of mine, and I spotted them one day out on the more distant orbits of the Facebook. The photographer, one of the employees of the shop, kindly gave me permission to post them.

I was transfixed the instant I saw them. Aesthetically they’re amazing – the pale yellow cast of the film encasing the era as if in amber. A wistful melancholy sets in when you start to weigh what we lost as a culture when we lost places like this. But it’s the people, finally – this wonderful, quirky, ramshackle cast –  that really bring these photos to life.

I’ve tried many times to describe their effect on me – jury-rigging metaphors that do justice to their peculiar spell. It’s weird. I’m just old enough to recall when the texture of life felt like this. So sometimes they trigger deeply felt, familiar, yet sketchy, memories. Other times they read like fiction – especially vivid stills from a movie that one the one hand I desperately wished existed and on the other I feel like I’ve already seen. Like I said, weird.

Japanese Surf Monster

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{RERUN: Originally aired Feb 19, 2009} Takeshi Terauchi is the Dick Dale of Japan, if Dick Dale was the Jimi Hendrix of America. He is exactly as obscure abroad as he is huge at home. His technical prowess, melodic complexity and sonic expressiveness qualify him an overlooked giant in the genre. Pinpoint guitar runs and exquisitely sprayed distortion gallop over a bed of rich organ washes and a sturdy back beat. The requisite minor key melodies often enthrallingly digress into Japanese folk. The fact that his instrumentals were an influence on the Dead Kennedys’ surf derived sound is just icing on the awesome…. Hopelessly out of print, the entire This is Terauchi Bushi album can be found at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog. Radness incarnate.

Opening salvo, Kanjinncyou, below:

 

Recipie

SAVILLE POSTER-YELLOW

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All designs by the inimitable Peter Sevillle (Factory Records, New Order, OMD, Durutti Column, Ultravox, Duran Duran, King Crmison…) It a’int my manifesto exactly, but I’m stirred nonetheless by its brash glitz cut with a swoon for the assembly line.

For Your Pleasure 2013

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This year was ruled by bands & musicians I hold very dear dropping career defining albums out of nowhere. Albums that were reconnections, reminders & remembrances of their fundamental radness — each, though, indelibly colored by an autumnal mood, recognition of age, time & wear.

I thought the best rekkid honors were done & done as early as February with Bad Religion’s exhilarating True North — songs firing like model rocket engines, a compressed crackling burn and then, a minute or so later, lay smoldering. A career capper, a middle age manifesto, and the last classic of mid-80’s SoCal melodic hardcore.

Months later I’m in Toronto at a record shop where I finally scored the long coveted debut EP by Men Without Hats. Can that snigger, bignuts — this bands gifts are substantial & buried, like Wall of Voodoo’s, under the debris of their sky-blotting single hit. You fucking bet you can dance if you want to…

Anyway — this leads me to wonder what they’ve been up to recently. The answer? A stunner of a record, Love in the Age of War, recorded in late 2012 (news about MWOH travels slowly) on their original analog gear. It was originally titled Folk of The 80’s Part IV, thus deliberately planting it in line with the band’s killer run of raw synth records before the more painterly & ambitious Pop Goes the World. Alternately thrilling & poignant, this ruled the headphones for months.

Then Bowie drops The Next Day, the last word on last words as far as Olympian rockers go. Superfan Rick Moody nailed it in a long exegesis for the Rumpus — it’s a particularly tuned masterpiece, functioning as a hall of mirrors & memory palace of Bowies guises, obsessions, and, above all, vocals. For the heaviness of its agenda, it’s a remarkably unlabored listen — a great batch of songs, carefully & secretly handcrafted then released with Bowie’s characteristic savvy. The record cover tells you every single thing you need to know about it, a conceptually brilliant shorthand to a tremendously rich & deep listen.

Weaving amongst these heavies was the year’s big discovery — the Aussie all-lady foursome Beaches. Their second album, She Beats, was a swirly, gauzy, fuzzy, fuzzy, swirly, gauzy pleasure. Melodic swells dove in and out of  the din like dolphins, underpinned by a steady motorik beat (Harmonia’s Michael Rother guests) The grin-goosing “Chase Those Blues Away” was the tune of the year.

Welcome electronic transmissions resumed from the Boards of Canada & Barbara Morgenstern – bleeps and bloops both heavy and light.

Psych alchemist Kelley Stoltz has long completed his apprenticeship — this years Double Exposure, a fusillade of handmade pop-psych bliss, is a killer follow-up to 2010’s equally ace To Dreamers. The spellbinding cover, featuring Stoltz’s mom back in the 70’s drawing a bow in what looks like hockey pads on a shag rug backed by a large op art painting & a hi-fi, was the year’s best.

Spelunking in the shops yielded treasures galore this year — Babe Buell’s Covers Girl EP where the fetching groupie (and Arwen Undómiel’s mom) is produced by Rick Derringer, backed by the Cars, and covers Love & Iggy; James Freud’s forgotten mod/synth mashup, bought on the strength of the cover alone; vinyl versions of high-school mix-tape staples interred for decades on cassettes like Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha,” Vagina Dentata’s legendary Darby Crash penned “Golden Boys”, Frightwig’s careening “Wanque Off Song”, and Hawaiian Pups’ resolutely odd & yet irresistible “Baby Judy.”

Nick Cave played the year’s best show. A few songs into his set at the Keswick Theatre, Cave, exasperated by the staid & respectful audience, demanded a stage rush. As a result I finally got a sustained barrage of legendary close-up Cave — thin, ungainly, tall & lanky, mustachioed, posture lurching & off kilter, reminding me of no-one as much as a demonic Fawlty Tower’s era John Cleese… a gobsmackingly riveting performance.

A few ace re-issues appeared, each a welcome surprise. Dark Entries’ collection of the early recordings by Algebra Suicide is a public service, helping to secure the legacy of the formidably talented Detroit Ukrainian poet & singer Lydia Tomkiw. And then a delightfully random Clothilde collection! Clothilde was weird salvo in the barrage of 60’s French girl pop, or ye ye. The moodiness of Francoise Hardy, the bubbly delivery of France Gall, set to ramshackle fuzz & harpsichord  constructions reminiscent of Joe Meek. Light In The Attic kicked off the Public Image Limited reissue series with a lovingly reproduced 7” of their debut single, complete with foldout faux tabloid. I’ve loved this song for over 25 years – it hasn’t lost a drop of it’s power, originality, venom, or pop and it sounds, as it always has, utterly vital.

I listened to a lot of Reggae on Sunday afternoons. Weird — music just finds you when you are ready for it, I guess.

Then out of the blue ether, the Chills drop Somewhere Beautiful, a rough & crystalline live recording of a small New Years party they played a while back. Prolific, yet sporadically recorded back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, New Zealand’s the Chills were led by the preposterously gifted, big hearted, but troubled Martin Phillipps. Their first singles, and two LPs (especially Submarine Bells) were peerless muscular, shimmering beauties. After a brush with popularity that found them recording with R.E.M. and Van Dyke Parks, Phillipps’ crushing heroin habit subsumed the band. Living hardscrabble, he managed only one more proper LP, a demos release and a home recorded 4 song EP since then — all excellent. Then this miracle. The band has more heft & swing than before, and even with a few lovely embellishment the sound is more garage-y than gossamer. Phillipps’ voice, though, is a revelation. While still melodically supple, a rawness tears through the songs, the edge of his sharp New Zealand accent present as never before. Each song is recast, invested with new energy, and inflected by real pain & directness. It’s a fucking stunner, and hands down the years best record.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE. ENJOY!

cover image: Boucher, François, Allegory of Music (detail) National Gallery, DC