31.8.09

BECK'S RECORD CLUB : The Velvet Underground & Nico

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You might've read that Beck has recently set himself the unenviable task of recreating various classic albums, aided only by a few likeminded friends & the skin of his musical teeth, & posting the results in a track-by-track, day-by-day fashion on his freshly overhauled website. Alarmingly, the first LP to get the Beck's Record Club treatment is the V.U.'s unfuckingtouchable fruit-adorned debut. Some of it's fantastic (both "European Son" & "Black Angel's Death Song" are outstanding) & some of it's mere tossed-off flakiness ("There She Goes Again") but if any rockstar is gonna have a crack at reinterpreting such a masterful sequence of songs I'd rather it be Beck Hansen than most (God help us if Noel Gallagher gets wind of this concept!). And, of course, it's a clever way of getting us to check out that flash new website innit? Conveniently, some forward-thinking, anonymous Robin Hood-type has posted all 11 Beck jams as a single file. No idea how long this'll hang around (as long as it takes for the cease & desist e-mail to appear in their inbox I 'spose) so, erm, form a disorderly queue, etc...

Future Record Club sessions will focus on Skip Spence's Oar (recorded in collaboration with Wilco) & Beck's own Modern Guilt (with Devendra Banhart, MGMT & others), it says 'ere.

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29.8.09

LES RALLIZES DENUDES : Heavier Than A Death In The Family

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Attention: This is fucking incredible! Like virtually everybody else, Les Rallizes Denudes were brought to my attention by Julian Cope & his mammoth Japrocksampler tome. Though the serpentine family tree of progressive Oriental psychedelic rock is much more difficult to navigate than the music touched on in his previous, landmark Krautrocksampler guide it's potentially just as mind frazzling (perhaps moreso). I've only made limited in-roads into the genre so far but my mind is already well on it's way to being totally b.l.o.w.n. (ahem!) by this stuff & while Flower Travellin Band are possibly it's finest exponents, the mysterious Les Raillizes Denudes are probably my favourites, undoubtedly because they're so supremely fucked up.

Formed in 1967, the ultra-reclusive Les Rallizes Denudes operated under a cloak of consummate secrecy, swiftly attaining mythical status. They released virtually no official records of their own, operated exclusively as a live act after 1973 & only split as recently as 1996. Principally, they've been documented by a series of sumptious multi-disc, feedback-soaked live bootlegs, of which 2002's Heavier Than A Death In The Family is only one of many (disappointingly I don't have a clue where or when it was recorded, though there's some crossover with the oft-mentioned '77 Live boot). Imagine a militant left wing, opiate-steeped, basement dwelling Japanese commune struggling to approximate the first Velvet Underground album in the style of Hawkwind & then introduce a little wanton terrorism for a good measure (their original bass player was an active member of a Japanese Red Army cell & sucessfully hijacked an airliner in 1970!). Bascially they make Acid Mothers Temple look like a bunch of... hippies. Awesome! If you like this & want to hear more, track down the Blind Baby Has It's Mother's Eyes LP, it's another stunner...
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N.B. There's an excellent online article about Les Razilles Denudes here. And if you fancy tracking down the other 49 entries in Cope's Japrock Top 50 you'll find most of them at In The Pines, though I've no idea how many of the links are still active.

Heavy

28.8.09

JOHN FAHEY : City Of Refuge

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A deft fingerpicking guitarist fusing classical, abstract & esoteric elements with the usual folk & blues influences, John Fahey was often labeled an American Primitive due to the self-taught nature of his "art", though his playing doesn't sound anything like "primitive" to a concerted novice like myself. Despite wrestling with a guitar in several bands over the years (though certainly not any that you've heard of) I'm definitely still not a "guitar player" as such. Consequently much of John Fahey's earlier, classic recordings sail, majestic & aloof, over my uncomprehending head. As much as I enjoy listening to, for instance, The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death, it's fair to say that I don't really get it.
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The terminal phase of his career presents no such difficulties for me however. Denouncing the dazzling technique of his classic, medititive period as "cosmic sentimentalism", he chose to pursue a noticably harsher & explorative course throughout the 90s, much to the confusion & derision of his old time fans ("Being worshipped is a horrible experience", Fahey has claimed). Though recovering from the effects of longterm aloholism, diabetes & chronic fatigue syndrome, Fahey (who'd virtually stopped recording in the 80s) embarked on a prolific, often wayward, campaign of recording & live performance that would only be curtailed by his death, aged 62, in 2000. City Of Refuge is the first of the later Fahey albums I heard & I still give it a listen fairly regularly (rather randomly, it contains a couple of collaged Stereolab samples!). The Tim/Kerr label put it out in 1997 though it's currently OOP (the label tanked a couple of years later I believe). That same year's Womblife CD, on Table Of The Elements & produced by Jim O'Rourke, is probably my favourite though. During his stint in Gastr Del Sol, O'Rourke ceaselessly championed Fahey's work &, arguably, is largely responsible for his long-deserved critical re-evaluation.
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This link c/o Annaherugen btw, a new (to me) blog chocful of intriguing-looking music I've never heard of. Tap into the official Fahey site for further enlightenment.

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26.8.09

Hmmm...

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...he penned 77mal England as well but, frankly, I'm none the wiser. Any clues?

22.8.09

THE RESIDENTS : The Beatles Play The Residents & The Residents Play The Beatles

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Released by Ralph Records in 1977, The Beatles Play The Residents & The Residents Play The Beatles 7" represents the final chapter in The Residents' deconstructive audio collage period - the hypothetical third (& final) side of The Third Reich'N'Roll if you like. Simultaneously saluting & satirizing the Fab Four the a-side, "Beyond The Valley Of A Day In The Life", loops & pastes excerpts from around 20 Apple originals (& at least one by John Lennon), including a quote from their fanclub-only Third Christmas Record ("Please everybody, if we haven't done what we could have done, we've tried..."). Overleaf, The Residents make a relatively straight attempt at "Flying", allegedly because it was the only composition in the entire Beastles catalogue that's credited to all four Beatles. It's worth pointing out that interest in The Residents' identities was at it's zenith when this 45 was originally released & the possibility that they might actually be a secretly reconvened Fabs hadn't been ruled out! Ralph Records were no doubt heartily amused to discover that hardcore Beatles fanatics were snapping up extortionately priced copies despite it essentially being a demolition job on their heroes' glorious heritage? Only 500 copies were originally pressed, & though these tracks have briefly reappeared as CD bonus tracks in the interim they appear to be OOP again now.
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Ringo

21.8.09

ALEX CHILTON : 1970

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Though often labelled pedestrian in comparison to his Big Star apogee, I've long had a soft spot for Alex Chilton's 1970 sessions . Bored with The Box Tops & the fleeting pop stardom "The Letter" (#1 in 1967) entailed, Chilton jumped ship in early 1970 & snuck into Memphis' Ardent studios with producer & multi-instrumentalist Terry Manning, recording these songs for use as a demo to shop himself around as a potential solo artist. Atlantic initially offered him a deal but Chilton reneged on it, apparently hoping that The Beach Boys' Brother label might step in & take him on instead. In the prolonged contractual wrangling that followed, Chilton hooked up with Chris Bell, formed Big Star, recorded the #1 Record album (a reference to "The Letter" perhaps?) & presumably forgot all about this frothy cache of Southern fried R&B pop. Filthier & funkier than anything The Box Tops could muster (though a couple of their tunes pop up here in scuzzier garb), 1970 is a revelatory listen: trailer trash Booker T-meets-The Byrds almost. At least half a dozen of these could've (should've!) been exceptional 45s & a couple of them, "Free Again" & "The EMI Song", rank alongside the best Chilton has ever penned - not bad considering he'd go on to co-write two of the greatest albums of the 1970s (pre-punk anyway). Elsewhere, mischeviously sloppy pseudo-jams such as "Funky National" & the killer Archies/James Brown medley pre-empt the coarse cabin fever grooves of his Like Flies On Sherbert & Bach's Bottom LPs. Though they circulated as Nth generation bootlegs for years, it wasn't until the mid 90s that Terry Manning finally rescued the mono masters from the Ardent vaults & crafted this superior, definitive stereo mix. In turn, Creation's Slaughter Joe Foster got his hands on the tapes & released them c/o his labour-of-love Rev-Ola label (now reactivated via Cherry Red), though sadly it's been out of print for several years...
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I've been digging deeper into Chilton's back catalogue with some gusto recently. Having long been put off by critics' dismissal of his post-Big Star career as a drugged & drunken fuck-you to his audience (essentially a bunch of Big Star-revering latecomers who just want him to sing "September Gurlz" & be suitably humbled by their fawning attentions), it transpires that those later albums, plus terrific 45s such as "Bangkok" & No Sex", embody perfectly the irreverent viscera of rock'n'roll. Afterall, wasn't rock'n'roll supposed to be one massive drugged, drunken fuck you anyway? Listening to this stuff now it's evident why The Cramps, for example, wanted him to produce their debut LP & it's not because they wanted to sound like Big Star. Tales of Chilton's artistic stubborness, i.e. mopping floors in a Memphis diner rather than renting out Big Star's arse, only engender further respect. And who, this late in the day, can blame him for not wanting to sing "September Gurlz" more than once or twice a year tops?

LINK REMOVED: Alex's complete 1970 sessions are set for re-release in January 2012, so this post is now obsolete.

17.8.09

HIGHRISE!

Immortalised forever in starkest black & white, these flats might look like a Ballardian wet dream now, but when I was growing up here in the 1970s they seemed like nowt more grim than a labyrinthine, endlessly exciting playground. With lifts. Built on the outskirts of Nottingham in the late 1960s, they succumbed to concrete cancer (&, eventually, a predictably malevolent underclass) depressingly quickly & were demolished in 1985. Fortunately for me, my parents had long since relocated to (relatively) greener pastures by that point. The eeire lack of any obvious sign of sentient life in this impressive (if somewhat austere!) gallery shouldn't suggest a sinister A Clockwork Orange-type scenario at work however - these photographs were largely taken in 1982, by which point the entire complex been cleared of tenants in preparation for it's consequent demolition a couple of years later. Huge thanks to Reg Baker at Picture The Past for sharing these pics btw...
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13.8.09

THE FLAMING LIPS : Zaireeka (Pefect Mix)

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I'm fundamentally defeating the object here I suppose but, admit it, that original 4 disc version of The Flaming Lips' quadrophrenic Zaireeka is surely one of the most frustrating albums ever? It's also probably one of the most unplayed. Being a massive Lips fan at the time (c.1997), I optimistically splurged £25 on it, toyed around unsuccessfully with various combinations of ill-suited domestic hi-fi, then reluctantly put it to one side & forgot about it. A shame really as the sections I managed to piece together to sounded tantilisingly grand. Mixes of all 4 discs have been floating around on Soulseek & the like for ages but, as I stopped obsessing over the Lips several years ago it hadn't crossed my mind to look for one 'til relatively recently. As suspected, it's a compelling set of fantastical, thought provoking songs & the first LP of their "second phase" - post-Ronald Jones & sounding very much like a dry run for it's successor, the triumphant The Soft Bulletin. The goons at Mojo still hadn't got their sweaty hands on 'em at this point though,& it'd be a while before Wayne started orbing above thrill-seeking festival crowds like a giant, attention-deficient hamster. Ugh.

On the 10th anniversary of Zarieeka's release, the band made and distributed an additional fifth disc to go along with the original set, handing a limited amount of copies out at the 10th anniversary listening party for the album. Remarkably, it contains what was originally intended to be discs 5-10! Full marks to them for remaining true to the original concept & still refusing, a decade on, to relent & make the mixed version available commercially though...

Zaireeka

N.B. If you're unfamiliar with the Zaireeka "concept" then have a peek at this...

DAVID PELHAM & PENGUIN S.F.

Poking around in The Shed at the weekend, I found a few David Pelham-illustrated paperbacks that I'd totally forgotten I owned (Penguin science fiction for the most part). I've long been fascinated by Pelham's work, particularly his surrealistic use of airbrush, & was a little deflated to discover just how little information there is about him out there on the 'net (I seriously suggest you check out this terrific in-depth interview with him over at Creative Review, however - it's the finest article I've read about him). Arguably, his most striking, possibly defining image is his modernist Droogy archetype from Penguin's 1972 edition of A Clockwork Orange, though I'm a much bigger fan of his darker, nightmarish designs - his cover for Moorcock's The Final Programme being a particularly nightmarish favourite...
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10.8.09

THE TEARDROP EXPLODES : Piano

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I'm posting this one as I mislaid my copy in a housemove a couple of years ago &, as it slipped in & out of print so quickly, it's already become pretty scarce. It's on Amazon at the moment for a paltry £33+ - tres irritating considering I picked mine up for peanuts in a library sale (50p tops!). Tsk.

Piano is actually a bit of a botch job in retrospect. Inadequately packaged in a flimsy "will this do"-type booklet with rudimentary graphics & minimal info, many of the tracks are disappointingly mastered from "vintage" vinyl (allegedly because copyright holder Bill Drummond has misplaced the master tapes!). Surely it's about time Herr Cope & his ex-manager set aside their lingering differences & gave this stuff the thorough remastering 'n' repackaging job it obviously deserves? Tracks 1-7 made up the band's first 3 Zoo 7"s (released 1979-80) & are essentially lo-fi demos for their later Kilimanjaro incarnations (the debut EP sounds like it might've been recorded in Droolian's bedroom for maximum cheapness!). The audaciously skeletal version of "Sleeping Gas" included here remains a pulsating Nuggets-style garagepop gem, regardless of budget (or lack of). Long forgotten new wave nobodies The Freshies immediately responded to their difficulty in obtaining original copies of the "Bouncing Babies" 7" in their "I Can't Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes" single (Smash Hits liked it!). Odder still, The Freshies were fronted by Chris Sievey who went on to find fame & relative fortune as Mr. Frank Sidebottom! The final 3 songs first appeared on Zoo's semi-legendary "To The Shores Of Lake Placid" collection. One of 'em, the deeply weird "Kwalo Klobinsky's Lullaby" (an intriguing title Cope would revisit on Kilimanjaro, it's actually a sort-of dub version of "Sleeping Gas"), was originally credited to Whopper, a kind of parallel Earth version of The Teardrop Explodes. Whopper were fronted by Cope's shortlived Kevin Stapleton alter ego, a Liverpool-bred equivilent to MES's Roman Totale from what I gather. Things were gettting pretty psychedelic down at ClubZoo at this point, by all accounts...!
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I've no idea what Cope's official line is on Piano but it's swift deletion suggests he wasn't entirely pleased. In omitting various key tracks (or substituting them with vastly inferior demo or live versions), Head Heritage's own collection of songs from this period, Zoology, hardly set the world on fire either, did it? Btw, I sourced this upload of Piano from Wilfully Obscure (always worth a look) &, for curiosity's sake, I'm including a shaky recording of an early hometown live show from Eric's, circa 1979 (c/o the terrific Music...isms, the world's finest Liverpool-orientated blog or I'm Pete Wylie).

Piano / Eric's

TX Update:
No doubt I've been terribly slow off the mark here, but I've just spotted that two long lost (on CD anyway) Teardrops' songs, the 'baroque strings' version of "Suffocate" (previously unreleased I think) & the brilliant "Christ Vs. Warhol" (originally the b-side of "Passionate Friend") are both available on Mercury's visually insipid The Greatest Hit cash-in comp from 2001. Both are undisputable must-haves, so much so that I momentarily lost my marbles & purchased them c/o iTunes...!

9.8.09

BALLARDIAN DUSTJACKETS

From the same period (or thereabouts) as those retrofuturist New Worlds covers, here's a selection of mesmerising J.G.Ballard jackets. I remember checking some of these editions out of the local library as a kid & frazzling my unsuspecting brains. Sadly they're all gone now - the books that is, not my brains - stolen I expect? Many of these beauties command exhorbitant pricetags nowadays so don't expect to catch sight of the genuine article(s) again in a hurry...
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7.8.09

NEW WORLDS MAGAZINE IN THE 1960s

In the mid-60s & under the editorial control of Michael Moorcock, science fiction magazine New Worlds made significant in-roads into the avant garde, pursuing a more progressive line of "speculative fiction" rather than the usual, hackneyed bug-eyed monster, raygun-wielding hunk & buxom stardmaiden archetypes. Mirroring the preoccupations of the turned-on counterculture, Moorcock attempted to fuse wildly controversial "new wave" fiction with topical concepts of psychology, sexual liberation, the mass media, pop art, underground cinema, psychedelia & experimental drug use. Despite the regular patronage of authors such as J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Thomas Disch, M.John Harrison, John Sladek, Norman Spinrad & Moorcock himself, the magazine only survived as long as it did by virtue of a generous Arts Council grant, eventually collapsing in 1970 (just as the hippy dream began to seriously sour). Original copies of New Worlds are virtually impossible to find these days (& prohibitively expensive when they do turn up), though much of the material it published has fortunately been anthologised elsewhere. That doesn't stop me slobbering over this selection of amazing covers from it's acidhead-friendly "second phase" however...
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6.8.09

GUIDED BY VOICES : The Power Of Suck

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I first heard Guided By Voices way back in 1993, purchasing copies of Scat's original Vampire On Titus/Propeller 2-fer & The Grand Hour EP via the legendary Rustic Rod (does anybody have a clue what happened to him - let me know?) &, though the romance has certainly had a few protracted ups & downs, I still love 'em to bits. Their back catalogue is so mindbogglingly vast that it's still possible to ping-pong back & forth from one distant vinyl outpost to another, changing one's favourite GBV release virtually on a weekly basis (for the record, I'm currently revisiting their 1986 debut, Forever Since Breakfast - my copy's an I Wanna original &, coincidently, another Rustic Rod purchase).
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Most savvy GBV pundits agree that they hit their creative zenith sometime around 1996's Under The Bushes, Under The Stars LP. The genesis for that benchmark album can be found in the unreleased The Power Of Suck, whose extensive Kim Deal/Steve Albini-directed sessions eventually produced enough material not only for the Under The Bushes double, but for the subsequent Sunfish Holy Breakfast & Plantations Of The Pale Pink EPs, numerous singles & compilation tracks & various GBV-related solo shots (Not In My Airforce & Carnival Boy for instance).

Robert Pollard: "The album was going to be a concept album. It was going to be called The Power of Suck. An autobiographical concept record about how Guided by Voices had started from nowhere & all of a sudden we were thrust into the limelight. The story was like, Are they going to sell out of not? What's going to happen at the end? And Don't Stop Now was supposed to be the big finale. So originally it was a concept album and I was writing all these songs geared toward this concept record, & it was getting really difficult. Jim Greer had already written the story for it, & it was really hard to try to write songs for the record. All the songs that we were doing with Kim Deal & Steve Albini were for the concept album. We went to Europe & did our tour and when we came back, I had decided to shitcan the concept album, & I wrote a bunch of new songs, like 18 or 20 songs, & I thought they were better. They were more spontaneous and more free, they weren't geared toward a concept of anything, so we decided to record them in Dayton. I just decided to get rid of all this stuff from the concept record. Plus (for the concept record songs) we rehearsed for maybe a month in the basement, & took maybe two more weeks to record it-the whole process took two months to rehearse and record, & I don't like to work that way. I like to record as we rehearse. The stuff we did with Kim and Steve is painful for me to listen to. Not all of it, some of it turned out really good, but a lot of it is painful for me to listen to because it took so long and it was so laboured." Between the nixing of initial concept & it's eventual completion as UTB, Suck was fleetingly retitled both The Flying Party Is Here & Mustard Man & Mother Monkey, details of which you can pore over at the thoroughly essential Guided By Voices database if all this teeming minutiae hasn't already driven you half barmy. I was fortunate enough to see them on the European tour Pollard mentions & can honestly say it was one of the best "rock" gigs I've ever been to -Tobin Sprout & Mitch Mitchell were both still onboard, incredible songs old 'n' new were spilling out of 'em nonstop & the crowd absolutely worshipped 'em. The support slot from Kim Deal's shortlived Amps was a real eyeopener too - she's the only indie vocalist I've ever seen who had a designated cigarette roadie (funnier than it sounds!). The Amps had already recorded the "official" version of "I Am Decided" on their Pacer LP by this point, of course. Reluctant as I am to say it, I do feel that sudden blanket recognition marred GBV somewhat. Dragging them out of the subterrestrial Dayton, OH bar/garage scene & applying the predictable record company pressures of the yearly album/tour/album grind threatened to turn them into "just another indie rock band" for a while but, though Pollard's prolificy & quality control understandably fluctuated for a while, he appears to back on form again nowadays (everything his current Brown Submarine porject have released so far has been ace).

I found this set over at Back To Basics, though I've no idea who assembled it originally or if it's this specific sequence that was intended for release. I've everososlightly broken I Love Total Destruction's rule of not posting material that's currently still in print: you can find several of these songs scattered throughout GBV's UTB-era catalogue & on the band's two quadruple disc Suitcase collections of otherwise unavailable curiosities (N.B. vol. 3 is apparently imminent!). One minor gripe: I'd have much prefered to see the inclusion of that ancient, dog-eared "Don't Look Now" demo (as heard on King Shit & The Golden Boys) over the beefed-up UTB version - the latter sacrifices much of the original's threadbare melancholy for overwrought pro-studio bombast unfortunately. In tandem with another fascinating online bootleg, The Carefree Kitchens Are A Blast (link below), this is pretty much all the GBV I've been doting on of late (though Forever Since Breakfast's "She Wants To Know" has been stuck on repeat also). If you're in the unlikely position of never having heard any GBV before then, er, good luck & dig in - despite the absence of so many classic Under The Bushes songs (no "Cut Out Witch", "To Remake The Young Flyer" or "Man Called Aerodynamics"), this remains an ideal starting point for your induction into the GBV vortex...
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Suck / Kitchens

Robert Pollard: www.robertpollard.net /www.thefactoryofrawessentials.com
Guided By Voices: www.gbv.com / www.gbvdb.com

NEWFLASH! This just in: Rustic Rod Goodway returns!