14.10.10

UT : Ut 12" (1984)

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Ut Ad
Finally... the mighty Ut, possibly the final ensemble from the original No Wave era whose influence & importance has yet to be adequately addressed, & one of the finest too.

Forming in 1978, they'd already racked up 5 long years' worth of performances on the NYC underground & worked through a number of line-ups before releasing this eponymous debut 12" (their first appearance on vinyl). Recorded at Brixton's Cold Storage & self-released in 1984 on their own Out label (to resounding critical indifference), you'll no doubt recognise the fantastic "Sham Shack" as Soul Jazz included it on one of their New York Noise compilations. The 3 other pieces here are just are startling, perhaps more so - all seem daunting & impenetrable initially but utterly timeless in retrospect. I only ever actually saw a copy for sale once, in Nottingham's Selectadisc in the late 80s, which I immediately bought & have hung onto through thick & thin, it's such a great, great record. Tantalisingly, Ut completed an even earlier EP for Charles Ball's semi-mythic Lust/Unlust label prior to it's abrupt collapse - c'mon Soul Jazz, get it sorted!

Relocating from New York to London in the early 80s, encouraged by the patronage of Mark E Smith & The Birthday Party amongst others, Ut eventually hooked up with Paul Smith's pivotal Blast Label to release a handful of extraordinary LPs (In Gut's House = masterpiece) before finally calling it a day in 1990. I was fortunate enough to see them them live on a handful of occasions in the mid-80s & it's fair to say that they made absolutely no concessions on stage - swapping instruments, teetering on the brink of a liberating chaos, dissecting & spitting out their ferocious, primal guitar-scraping abstractions to disconcerted, slack jawed crowds who'd much rather have been watching The Flatmates. Ut were "interested in collapsing the divide between song & free improvisation... Most songs came from improvisation & contained aspects of the free even when they became solidified". Though they'd appear at the outset to be freely, & somewhat awkwardly, improvising, the realisation would gradually dawn that, actually, the songs they were playing had been meticulously arranged to sound that way: fractured, forensic, remote & slightly cantankerous.

So, the good news is that (i) Ut performed together, unannounced, in London earlier this year for the first time in 2 decades, supporting Dial (Jacqui Ham's current outfit) at The Luminaire, & (ii) they're about to play several more shows on America's East Coast. Make the effort to see them if you get the chance, they're one of my all-time favourite bands (though it seems slightly churlish to refer to them merely as "a band") & still sound like nothing else on Earth.

P.S. If anybody reading this has Ut's Live 1981 cassette on Out please get in touch.

10.10.10

10,000 MANIACS : My Mother The War 12" (1983)

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10,000 Maniacs formed (as Still Life) in chilly upper New York in 1981 & are one of those rare bands who, rather like The Smiths, seemed to emerge without precedent or any obvious influences. John Peel had a fleeting obsession with them back in 1983 &, being a compulsive listener to his show at that point, so did I. Nowadays, the band having long since retreated into anaemic (albeit politically charged) MOR, it's easy to forget how radical their first few records sounded. The unlikely combination of 17 year old Natalie Merchant's ethereal folk vocal (a female equivalent to early, expressionist Michael Stipe), Robert Buck's bizarre, overloaded guitar (a bedsit version of The Edge perhaps?) & a rhythm section that alternated between hesitant white reggae & pounding alt-rock, seemed very peculiar to a schoolkid more accustomed to the DIY dystopia of Devo, Fad Gadget & (!) You've Got Foetus On Your Breath.

This Reflex 12" was the band's first European release & slipped in & out of print relatively quickly, despite scoring a sizable hit on the British independent chart. "My Mother The War" was taken from the band's debut LP, Secrets Of The I-Ching & remains the keynote song of their early repertoire. "Planned Obsolescence" was the stand-out track on their debut, self-released EP, Human Instinct No.5, & is most notable for it's extraordinary guitar playing, totally at odds with the rest of the song (it certainly made me stop whatever I was doing & listen). It's still my favourite song of theirs by some distance. "National Education Week" is a formative (& much longer) demo version of the Secrets Of The I-Ching track that only ever appeared on the Reflex EP (the shorter I-Ching version was omitted from later pressings of the album btw). An awkward lo-fi dub track with an indecipherable child-like vocal (shades of Ari Up?), it could almost be an early 80s On-U Sound outtake.

Inevitably, considering the worldwide popularity the band achieved in the latter half of the 80s, virtually all of these early ("Fredonia") recordings were eventually compiled on Elektra's Hope Chest retrospective in 1990, albeit noticeably cleaned-up ("wet" 80s drums, etc) & losing much of their basement charm in the process. The original vinyl mixes sound vastly superior & I'd definitely suggest you hear them first if at all possible. Needless to say, as per John Peel, my interest in 10,00 Maniacs waned as their musical expertise & self-awareness grew & was bumped off once & for all by a horribly precious appearance on The Tube (don't say I didn't warn you). This EP, the only record of theirs I've ever owned, still sounds rather good though, eh?

7.10.10

FACTORY FLOOR : Talking On Cliffs EP (2009)

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A ludicrously scarce Japan-only e.p., Talking On Cliffs was released in minute quantities by Magnetic Records last Summer & is currently for sale on Amazon over here (1 copy only!) for a paltry £36. I've no idea when/where this material was recorded, whether any of it will turn up as part of Factory Floor's debut album (when they finally get 'round to putting one out), or if it's even a wholly "official" release anyway - apologies for the uncharacteristic vagueness. It sounds awesome though: disembodied vocals, wrecked guitars, & jagged sequenced electronics with a thick streak of DOA-era T.G. coursing right through 'em. Surely the NME doesn't really like this sort of thing these day, does it?

I Just Left These As Attempts