27.1.10

CRYSTAL STILTS : Departure (Promo) / Daytrotter Session 2009

Only a year old & already sounding like a bona fide classic, Crystal Stilts' debut album was definitely one of my favourite records of 2009. I've only just discovered Kate Thomas's (official) "Departure" trailer though, a particularly watchable compilation of period news footage from (by the looks of it) the Parisian student protests in 1968. As that stuff only seems to be shown in the briefest of snippets these days - absolute dissent being a relatively alien concept in Western Europe these days afterall - & then generally only as filler in self-congratulatory BBC3 retrospectives about what a countercultural scamp Alan Yentob was at university (etc.), it's very interesting to see so much unadulterated, quality documentation of that era of in one place. I don't watch too much t.v. these days but I'm guessing that the Stilts' video didn't receive blanket coverage from MTV & the like either? Conspiracy!

I'm not gonna post their (excellent) Alright Of Night LP as it's still readily obtainable & I'm certain they'd much rather you buy a copy, so here's their Daytrotter session instead, recorded last April & containing one otherwise unavailable song, the intriguing "Sycamore Tree" (the "Through The Floor" demo is included as a bonus). I'm linking to a nice live clip too, shot about a year ago - having seen them perform a couple of times myself last year I can vouch for their being pretty impressive onstage, but somebody really ought to take the keyboard player to one side & ask him to pipe down...

23.1.10

100 Abandoned Houses

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From 100 Abandoned Houses site: "The abandoned houses project began innocently enough roughly ten years ago. I actually began photographing abandonment in Detroit in the mid 90’s as a creative outlet, and as a way of satisfying my curiosity with the state of my home town. I had always found it to be amazing, depressing, & perplexing that a once great city could find itself in such great distress, all the while surrounded by such affluence.

Brush Park, on the outskirts of Detroit’s entertainment district was always an area of interest to me. For as long as I can remember the area, housing large houses & mansions, sat largely abandoned just a stones throw away from the Fox Theater, & not far from Wayne State University, the Masonic Theater, & even the central business district. How could an area that was obviously once a wealthy enclave in the city become an example of the downfall of American cities?

For years the area had signs advertising the redevelopment that was about to take place. It finally began to happen, with the construction of the new ballpark for the Tigers, & Ford Field for the Lions. New condos, & town homes began to appear amidst the rubble of burned out mansions turned apartments. Some of the houses were so large they became “loft condos”. As the entertainment district flourished, and Brush Park began to transform into something new, I realized the other approximately 135 square miles of Detroit was largely ignored. The excitement about Detroit’s “rebirth” took center stage, while much of the rest of the city was becoming largely abandoned. Even Brush Park itself was still largely abandoned, but with the remaining tenants of Brush Park buildings being pushed out, & many of the old houses torn down, I moved on to other areas, where Detroiters were attempting to make a life among abandoned & burned out houses. Often times, the neighborhoods were almost completely abandoned. In these neighborhoods I encountered concerned citizens, packs of wild dogs, 20 foot high piles of toilets, & houses with the facades torn off, filled with garbage.

As the number of images grew, & a documentary style emerged, I switched from mostly black and white, to color, & decided to name the series 100 Abandoned Houses. 100 seemed like a lot, although the number of abandoned houses in Detroit is more like 12,000. Encompassing an area of over 138 square miles, Detroit has enough room to hold the land mass of San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan Island, yet the population has fallen from close to 2 million citizens, to most likely less than 800,000. With such a dramatic decline, the abandoned house problem is not likely to go away any time soon."


www.100abandonedhouses.com

9.1.10

PORTION CONTROL : I Staggered Mentally LP (1982)

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My abiding memory of Portion Control is of being utterly mystified as to how this band - who neither I nor any of my similarly-minded friends had ascertained any concrete knowledge of - had managed to rack up such a vast, multifarious discography, particularly as nobody actually appeared to be buying any of it (it just seemed to lurk in record shops, smouldering provocatively, etc). Portion Control singles, albums & cassettes had already achieved something approaching blanket coverage by the time of their inaugural Peel session (1983) & flawed crossover LP, ...Step Forward (1984). It's disappointing that the former was commissioned so far (relatively) into their career as they'd already sidelined their earlier, harder-edged approach & were moving into more mainstream - though no less forward looking - territories (it's a marvellous set nonetheless).

I Staggered Mentally was Portion Control's first official album, though they'd issued a fair number of long-playing cassettes beforehand. Released in 1982 on Pat Bermingham's Essex-based In Phaze label (also home to The Legendary Pink Dots), it finds them half way between the purely experimental , Cabaret Voltaire-influenced sound of their formative D.I.Y. period & their later, more refined, EBM-spawning direction. Though pitiless robotic havoc & tough tribal rhythms still dominate there's an evident emerging sophistication, a result of their pioneering use of Roland's TB-303 bass synth & a cautious move beyond the construction of moods & atmospheres towards more convential songwriting forms. That said, I Staggered Mentally remains one of the most brutal & viscerally exciting electronic records I've heard, though it never degenerates into all-out Noise to make it's point. Listening back to them now, I'm pleased to discover that Portion Control's landmark records continue to sound more extreme & more vital than virtually any of the legion of faux Industrial acts they ultimately influenced. There still only seems to be one readily available period photograph of them though - the music press would never fail to fall back on this one whenever they saw fit to reluctantly mention them (i.e. not often enough) & I'm more than happy to cough it up once again...
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In 2006, two decades on from their Psycho-Bod Saves The World swansong (yes, I'm conveniently overlooking their early 90s sojourn as Solar Enemy here), Portion Control remastered & reissued all of their vinyl recordings as Archive a 5xCD boxset which you can purchase via their official website. Needless to say, it remains an incredible body of work. There's a semi-obsessive fansite out there too (with more P.C. photos than I've ever seen before!).