issue 1 :: Spring 1994
Agnes Bernelle, Bikini Kill, Bottlecap, Anthony Braxton & Richard Teitelbaum, Anthony Braxton & the Northwest Creative Orchestra, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, Don Caballero, John Cage & David Tudor, Cruel Frederick, Brian Eno, Fibulator, Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble, God Is My Co-pilot, God Is My Co-pilot, Guru, the Hafler Trio, Illusion of Safety, The Machines comp, Magic Hour, Michelle Malone, Master Martian Broadcast Company, Nirvana, Luigi Nono, Nurse With Wound, Pavement, Pep Lester & His Pals, Po!, George Russell, Royal Trux, Rutles comp, Sabalon Glitz, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Kendra Smith, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Unrest / Stereolab,
| Agnes Bernelle — Father’s Lying Dead On the Ironing Board (Imp Records) LP 1985
There are some records that one comes across and says “I have no idea what this is, but I am going to buy it.” Such uninformed but inquisitive purchases make the true eclectic collection, or at least a very cluttered collection. I feel that one record in every record buying spree should contain an item that is mysterious or perplexing. This record was quite a successful venture, I think. Agnes Bernelle sings German cabaret songs from the 1930’s, written mostly by Joachim Ringelnatz, that weave stories and characterizations between the morose and the grotesque. I can image Edward Gorey illustrating these. The characters in these stories, would-be perverts in the park, pregnant unmarried sisters, unemployed fathers, dogs without bones, are framed by carefully planned show-tune like orchestration, wonderfully done, but with-out the stiffness associated with show songs. Bernelle does a wonderful job in sounding coy, reproachful, perplexed and sorry, and her voice—she must have been 60 or 70 when she recorded this—is wonderful. The extensive liner notes detail the history of Bernelle, who has lead a most interesting life, and of the German cabaret movement: “Here as well as there we are faced with a vast increase in prosperity and material well-being which has led to a coarsening of sensibilities, the rise of a mass of vulgar and frantic consumers. Here as there the rebels tried to show that there are finer values in life than those of a mad rush to satisfy the most basic appetites, hypocritically cover up by lip-service to obsolete cannons of respectability.”
| Bikini Kill — “New Radio,” “Rebel Girl” /“Demirep” (KillRockStars) 7” 1993
Loud fast rock here, and Joan Jett’s presence on guitar and backing vocals only further intensifies the record. I started listening to music with I Love Rock-n-Roll (in fact the first rock record I ever bought) many years ago, and I am very happy to see that Jett is getting respect from the likes of Bikini Kill, L7 and Bratmobile. My favorite here is the anthem rocker “Rebel Girl,” an ode to the “queen of the neighborhood.” In fact, I really like this song, and I have to listen to it at least three times whenever I put it on my turntable to get enough of it. The other two songs follow in a similar vein with their screamed, tough lyrics. As Jett says on the last seconds of “Demirep:” “we’re having fun.” So am I.
| Bottlecap — BT-18 (blue-tongue cassettes) CS 1993
This is an interesting collection of songs and fragments recorded on cheap tape recorders. Sometimes I can’t hear what the singer is singing, which is sad, but a lot of the songs on here are sad and mournful anyways, so I guess it just fits in that much more. Most of the stuff on here is voice and acoustic guitar, but there is also electric guitar pieces, piano bits, recorder, people blowing bubbles in water and some sounds that I just can’t identify. My favorite is probably the recordings of the evangelist talking about Saul seeing an analyst. Where the other pieces on this tape can be seen as amateurish, this piece is top-notch, the evangelist being recorded over some other voice and a background of hissy static. It sounds like something from Illusion Of Safety or Negitivland.
| Anthony Braxton & Richard Teitelbaum — Open aspects (Duo) 1982 (Hat Art) CD 1993
Space music. Beautiful, unashamed space music. One of a handful of recorded collaborations between Braxton and Teitelbaum, this recording plays and unfolds like the soundtrack to some great, lost science fiction masterpiece that only pops up on TV at three am once every three years. The plot of such a film would be esoteric and almost devoid of action, like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Wax: the Discovery of Television Among The Bees. If I were making a movie, I would use this for an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Destination: Void in which a group of scientists are sent into space in a sabotaged spacecraft, their only hope of survival to rig their computer into a self-consciousness. Does Braxton, who is known to enjoy B movies, think about such things when planning projects with Teitelbaum? The unlikely combination of saxophone and Moog synthesizer, has always seemed to work for these two, from their first pairing on Braxton’s New York, Fall 1974 and subsequent Time Zones duet (both are highly recommended). The way in which Braxton and Teitelbaum strive to work together and play off of each other to build up a mood, whether it be slow and mournful as in “Open Aspect #5” or the near cacophonous frenzy of “Open Aspect #4” with its faint rhythm box backings—which surely must be used for the frantic flight through hyperspace to achieve connection with the omni-intelligence of the universe!—ensures the grace and unity of their work. One gets the sense that these are not just compositions or improvisations, but dialogues between two advanced musical figures. The only thing missing from this record is Braxton’s wonderful and detailed writings on these pieces which accompany many of his earlier works.
| Anthony Braxton with the Northwest Creative Orchestra — Eugene (1989) (Black Saint) CD 1991
8 Braxton compositions performed by 17 musicians, including Braxton himself as conductor and alto saxophonist. The pieces on here span thirteen years of his career and include four pieces that have been recorded elsewhere, for those that like listening to multiple versions of his works. When I first saw this, I was hoping for a collection of strange marching-band music, like the incredible 3/1 on Creative Orchestra Music 1976, but alas I was disappointed on that count. The musicians on Eugene, mostly local musicians from Oregon, do a wonderful job in playing Braxton’s music, and really should be commended. Something I am very happy about is the presence of a vibraphone in the ensemble, which adds much coloring to the music, especially during the psuedo-marches of Compositions 134 and 45. However, the electric guitar and synthesizer detract greatly from the musical atmosphere every time they are heard above the ensemble. Also, there is no lengthy discussion from Braxton in the liner notes, just a small note from organizer and trombonist Mike Hettley. This is a great record, not as good as COM76, but still enjoyable and interesting.
| Caspar Brötzmann Massaker — Koksofen (Homestead) CD 1993
A lot of people have been talking about this, and now I am as well. There are some very impressive moments on this record, and Brötzmann plays some exciting guitar, particularly in the long intense jams that fill up the five songs on this record. My favorite though, which I have not heard anyone else comment on, is the noise-construction “Koksofen,” which departs from the song-structure of the other four pieces, and is close to the Nono piece reviewed here, especially in the chorus of voices microtonally blending together in the middle of the work. I am sorry that I do not understand the German lyrics, which Brötzmann belts out in his deep, gruff voice. I think this to be an extremely fine release.
| Don Caballero — My Ten Year Old Lady Is Giving It Away (Touch And Go) 7” 1993
Don Caballero play heavy metal on this 7”, which surprised me when I first heard it. I expected something a bit softer. The metal these guys play on the A side is fast and tight and reminds me of an instrumental Anthrax or some such band. Side B, the title track, is slower and to some degree lacks that metal groove and sounds like the Monks of Doom, but with metal guitars. All of these trebly hissy guitars bother me. If they lost their metal sound, they would probably appeal to me much more, but then they would not be Don Caballero, would they?
| John Cage & David Tutor — Indeterminacy (Smithsonian/Folkways) 2CD 1992
Originally released in 1959, this is a collection of 90 one minute stories by John Cage with his friend Tudor playing piano and electronic tape in the background. I’ve read most of these stories before in Silence, but the sound and inflection of Cage’s voice, coupled with the fact that he must read short stories slowly and long ones quickly to get them to all be one minute each, makes a very interesting record. To my surprise, Tudor’s musical backing, played and recorded out of earshot from Cage, is very sparse and goes for large periods of time without making a sound. When the accompaniment is heard, it is most likely either quick thuds or bursts from the piano, or buzzes, tweets, and voices from the tapes. Unlike many of later Cage’s vocal works, this one is very easy to get into, as it is just Cage speaking normal English, and not, let’s say, randomized vowel sounds. My favorite story? Oh, I like so many of them here, which often have a very funny bent to them, and deal with Cage’s adventures traveling and meeting various musical personalities. I will relate the one about his ex-wife Xenia, who when she was young, was a member of a club that had one rule: no silliness. I love Cage, and love the sound of his voice and I love this record.
| Cruel Frederick — The Birth Of The Cruel (SST) LP 1988
3 originals and 6 covers make up this venture into the world of free jazz. To show where these guys come from, they cover Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and “Ghosts” and “Bells” by Albert Ayler (and do good versions of the three). Competent and engaging, the quartet explores the territory of the songs in a variety of moods, slow and quiet in “White Logic” with wonderful clarinet flutterings, and really out in “That Damned Music,” containing some wicked trombone playing by bassist Guy Bennett. Their version of “Amazing Grace” sounds like they are all playing it from memory, which gives the spiritual a strange off-kilter feel to it. Even though they are not breaking any new ground with these recordings, I liked this.
| Brian Eno — Dali’s Car (Lubek) CD 1994
Six of Eno’s rock songs recorded live in the mid-70’s. The first five are with the “Winkies,” which more often than not, sounds like a bar band used to playing covers of the Doors and CCR. Only Brian Turrington on bass has played on Here Come The Warm Jets or Taking Tiger Mountain, which most of the material, comes from. “The Pow Pow Negro Blowtorch” and “Baby’s On Fire” from the former, and “The Fat Lady Of Limbourg” and “Third Uncle” from the later. Their version of “Baby’s On Fire” is perhaps the best of all the versions I have heard of it. “Fever” is a b-side to a 7” I have never heard, and reminds me of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Cold Shot” for some nauseating reason. Although I love early Eno, these songs did not do much for me, except to show me Eno’s power in the studio. The sixth song, recorded with 801 in 1976, is “I’ll Come Running” and improves in quality over the Winkies stuff. All in all, this is a record only for those who have all of Eno’s rock material, and want a little more.
| Fibulator — Even From Here You Look Big (Electro Motive Records) LP 1992
The music on this record is really hard to pin down: I will have to classify it as art rock due to its eclecticism. Similarities with Frank Zappa, the Monks of Doom, Big Hat, the B-52’s abound, although this is not at all derivative, just highly creative. The instrumental “Droppin The Ball” sounds like an out-take jam from the Meat Puppet’s psychedelic masterpiece Up On The Sun. The contrasting vocals of Kris Langam and Sarah Aivey both jump into a number of different voices on each song. I especially like “Levity.” where the two sing different words against each other. A record like this should have good liner notes, and that’s what we have, with the lyrics done up as if ripped-out of pages from play-scripts. This is a fun, enjoyable record with a bit of smarts behind it.
| The Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble — Lucid Anarchists (meat with 2 potatoes) (Shih Shih Wu Ai Records) LP 1981
Fine has many records out, and this is the first one I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. 10 untitled “instant compositions,” a side of solo pieces and a side of duets and trio pieces make up this record, which has a nice homemade feel to it. Opening the first side are two piano solos by Fine, one which sounds quite modem, employing squeaks and string-strumming, and the other, which starts out as a slow ballad, but ends up creating an interesting, random-sounding excursion into melody and embellishment. My favorite bit on the record is Fine’s clarinet solo, which sounds like something off of a Braxton record (which I of course mean as the highest of compliments). Long, deep drones are interrupted by bursts of squeaky playing. Next comes 3 pieces by guitarist/violinist Steve Gnitka, with Fine alternatively playing drums, piano and clarinet and Elliot Fine on drums when Milo is not playing them.
| God Is My Co-Pilot — “We Signify” / “Su Vot2 Esta Su Voz” (Dark Beloved Cloud) 7” 1993
Two quick, brief songs from GodCo, one of which, I just realized, is also on their new Straight Not album. Fans will still want this for the punkified folk melodies of “Su Vot2 Esta Su Voz.” For a small price ($2), you will get these two songs and 8 1/2 x 14” worth of cryptic liner notes, half of which are in strange foreign languages. Whatever it is they are saying: we think we approve.
| God Is My Co-Pilot — Straight Not (Outpunk) LP 1993
Whereas the two previous GodCo albums dealt largely with sex, Straight Not focuses attention on sexuality, perhaps in celebration of their first release on Outpunk records. “Maybe I shouldn’t stare at girls all the time,” sings Sharon Tropper, “but I’m not sure what harm it does… my gaze does not carry the weight of the patriarchy.” Hmmmm. The songs on this record are a lot more noisy than their earlier stuff, and certainly more bright and trebly. I love this band, but really did not enjoy this as much as I Am Not This Body or Speed Yr. Trip. This album lacks the abundance of humor of those two, although we do get much more sonic exploration and really strange noises. Anthony Coleman (yea!) and Elliott Sharp (ick) guest.
| Guru Jazzmatazz, Volume 1 (Chrysalis) CD 1993
Subtitled “an experimental fusion of hip-hop and jazz,” rapper Guru produces 12 songs heavy on the hip-hop and light on jazz and experimentation. The premise that the link between rap and jazz should be explored in greater detail is fine enough, but the songs on Jazzmatazz fail to bring this reconciliation about. Each song has a guest artist who contributes a backing track and/or solo to an otherwise typical rap experience. In most cases, the guests, which include Branford Marsalis, Ron Ayers, Donald Byrd, contribute extremely nice performances, but leave much to be desired for an “experimental fusion.” Having real music played over rap’s sampled drums and bass is nothing new, and the fact that this time (not the first by a long shot) jazz musicians are doing it is not enough to jump up and down about. Guru, like most of his contemporaries, spends much time on a propaganda campaign convincing how cool, def, slick, great he is. The raps and grooves on this record are fine, and sometimes show ingenuity, but such self-praise is laughable and detracts from his work. In fact, such outright claims, often the basis for entire songs (“Slicker Than Most,” “Down The Backstreets”), emphasize the limitations of Guru’s abilities. More time should have been spent producing good lyrics and music and less doing needless self-promotion. Despite the hype, the songs have a mellow, relaxed feel to them and are basically enjoyable to listen to. But it is the guest artists who ultimately put on the show here, especially the French rapper MC Solaar who steals the spotlight from Guru in “Le Bein, Le Mal” with some very quick French rapping. Also standing out are Roy Ayer’s masterful vibraphone, N’Dea Davenport’s superb, sexy singing, and Donald Byrd’s muted trumpet on their respective tracks.
| The Hafler Trio — Four Ways Of Saying Five (Solielimoon) CD 1993
Another fine reissue of old Hafler Trio, this one from 1986. The first piece here is the 48-minute “Three Ways Of Saying Two,” a lecture about communication and language, splayed over noises and sound effects. If only the lectures I went to in college came with noise-music soundtracks, I might have shown up more often! I must admit that I couldn’t catch all of what was being said here, on first listen although the parts I did focus on I found interesting. The other piece, “The Butcher’s Block” is another sound college, that contains some spoken word bits (a story about a drowning man and God), long percussion pieces, voices, coughing and sad piano/violin music recorded from old records. This was a good Hafler Trio record.
| Illusion Of Safety The False Mirror (State Of Flux) 7” 1992
I am not sure why IOS decided to release a 7” now after a dozen or so CD and cassette (and one LP!) releases, other than to showcase two somewhat diverse sides of the band’s collective sound. Each sound gets 4 minutes on each side of the single. The first side is “Seven Years Later” and is a loud and raucous, almost danceable, piece typical of the Inside Agitator CD. Built around a somewhat catchy drum loop, samples of people screaming and gurgling are layered on top of each other, producing a mood of quickly approaching death or dismemberment. Other samples exist in here, but they fly by so fast, collated into segments of noise, that one can only guess as to their origins (dogs, guns, guitars?). A lot of work obviously went into this piece by Dan Burke and Mitch Enderle, but this construction, and style, just does not catch my fancy. The second side, “The False Mirror,” is thankfully what I want to hear from IOS: a very slow moving piece, filled with drones, buzzes and feedback-sounding whines. Sounding like something from the band’s wonderful Cancer CD, “The False Mirror” gradually builds up in intensity, buzzes becoming menacingly loud, until it abruptly stops and we are left with a few cricket chirps. The presence of Jim O’Rourke is felt here (Mark Klein and Dan Burke, we are informed, also contributed) and one should listen to O’Rourke’s Scend and Disengage CDs if one likes this (and vice versa). The 7” comes in a oversized jacket, nicely done if sparse of any readings, and displays on its cover a grainy photo of a smiling... Brian Eno?
| The Machines: Simple Machine 7”s 1990-1993 (Simple Machines) CD 1993
A collection of six 7”s featuring various indie rock bands, loved and adored by the folks at Simple Machines/Tsunami. The highlights on this record are the two spoken word pieces by Juliana Luecking, Tsunami’s “Beauty Pt II” and Candy Machines “My Old Man.” However, for the most part, the songs by the bands that I had never heard before, Lungfish, Jawbox, Circus Lupus, failed to make me want to bear more, and the bands that I already had some liking for, Unrest, Autoclave, didn’t really compare to my favorites of theirs. And still I remain completely unimpressed by indie-favorites Superchunk and Velocity Girl.
| Magic Hour — Heads Down (Twisted Village) 7” 1993|
Let’s face it, I would probably rush out and buy the used tissue paper of Damon and Naomi of Galaxie 500 if it ever came on sale. D&N join forces with Kate and Wayne of Crystallized Movements to make a 2-part, ten-minute noisy guitar jam. I am not overly familiar with CM, but “Heads Down” is a lot closer to the last CM record than to anything on More Sad Hits. With all the feedback, buzzes, scrapes, and pops going on here, Magic Hour has moved out of the world of Rock, and into the uncertain waters of Noise. An LP is rumored to be out by the time this sees the Sun...
| Michelle Malone — New Experiences (Aluminum Jane Records) CD 1993
There are many ways to make a bad record, and New Experiences attempts many of them. The record is riddled with awful cliches and marred by bad production throughout. Malone attempts to produce the record herself with the help of one of musicians on the record (whom I bet contributes the bland electric guitar on some tracks), but neither one of them have any idea what a producer’s role is in making a record. Half of the songs are dull voice/acoustic guitar neo-folk crap, utilizing only the most simple and overused chord voicings. Malone’s lyrics plummet to the depths of banality: “Someday I’ll write a song and tell you how I feel for you” (this lyric is always a sign of trouble whenever it appears in a song). Or “I get lost in the ride but I don’t have a car/If contentment were food I’d probably starve.” A good producer, functioning as he/she should, would have nixed all these. This hypothetical producer would also not have recorded the two heavily cliched spoken poems, which both sound like Malone is struggling to be crowned queen on open mic night at the local coffee house. This record lacks ambition and originality, and not even the somewhat humorous pseudo-western “Under The Memphis Sky” or other failed tries to liven this record, make me ever want to listen to this again.
|Master Martian Broadcast Company — The Secret Files (Oakvark Records) LP 1985
Six episodes of “Secret Man,” a very cheesy and goofy radio program written and performed by Doug Benson [2012 note: not the “Super High Me” comedian -ed.] and Ben Kassanoff. Equal parts Superman and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, there is a dumb joke at every turn: “Don’t worry, he’s got a secret plan.” “I don’t have the secret plan, I thought you had the secret plan!” Follow the adventures of Secret Man as he gains a sidekick, locks his aunt in the pantry and battle the nefarious schemes of W.E.A.Z.E.L. It’s very silly and stupid, but if you’re in the, ahem, right frame of mind, it will evoke numerous laughs in you and your friends. Look for this in the back of your town’s fun record store.
|Nirvana — In Utero (Geffen) LP 1993|
Nirvana, it seems to me, is already effectively dead as a band, Nobody really listens to them, but everybody continues to talk knowingly and concernedly about them. Their “importance” is a myth. They are enormously interesting as a phenomenon of the power of personality and as a symptom of a frantic, fumbling, nightmare age -- our present -- and it is as such that they will live. Later ages will gather around the corpus of their work like a cluster of horrified medical students wound a biological sport. [2012 update: I forget who wrote this, maybe it is from the 1920s, but I stole it and made it into a Nirvana review. If anything, the faux review lets the band off light. –Ed.]
| Luigi Nono — “....sufforte onde serene…” / “a floresta e juveme e cheja de vida” (Deutsche Grammophon) LP 1979
This record has been my first exposure to the works of Nono, and I am quite impressed. The first piece “…..sufforte onde serene...” for piano and magnetic tape (1976) features Maurizo Pollini on piano. Comparable to the aleatoric piano works of John Cage (“Winter Music,” et cetera), one can never predict what comes next, sometimes silence, sometimes a barrage of dissonant notes. There is a lot of high-register twinkling going on, sometimes over booming bass notes or ominous thuds. The second piece, “a floresta e juveme e cheja de vida” for soprano, voices, clarinet, copper plates, and magnetic tape (1965), is my favorite of the two (and two other Nono works I have heard very recently). The mood is that of a general din, with people screaming, metal banging over small drones, shouts and whispers in the background. It really is an incredible soundscape. There are slight Ligeti-like choral passages that start out of silence, very faintly and build in intensity and shrillness. The clarinet, played by William O. Smith, produces drones, pop, squeaks, warbles and microtonal shivers against taped clarinet. The piece is masterfully put together and conducted by Bruno Canino, divided into smooth-flowing segments that focus on various combinations of the instruments: voices and clarinet here, clarinet and plates here, soprano and voices and plates, and so on. “The United States of America!” one male voice speaks up during one of the voice sections. “No Freedom!” yell a trio of voices later, after a particularly violent sounding cacophony. Is this a glimpse of Hell? An account of a violent popular uprising? The record is most likely a few years out of print, but you should really keep your eyes out for this wonderful record.
| Nurse With Wound — Soliloquy For Lilith (Six Songs For Lilith) (United Dairy) 2CD 1993|
This is a very long, dense work composed of synthesizer drones, washes, whines and buzzes. The listener gets lost in the countless repetitions that compose each section of the work. This isn’t the best in this sort of ambient noise music, perhaps due to a lack of development throughout the piece, but all of the sounds used here are engaging and stimulating. If only there were something more going on here.
| Pavement — Westing (by musket and sextant) (Drag City) LP 1993
23 songs collected from various early sources. Perhaps this wasn’t the best first record to get by these guys. I’ve always read comparisons of them to the Swell Maps, and it was under this impression that I purchased Westing. Pavement (on this record) lacks the intelligence, the surrealism, and the experimentation the Swell Maps possessed, and therefore, I do not understand where these comparisons come from. Pavement seems to be more like a grungy Sebadoh than anything I’ve ever heard from the Maps. Maybe after a few more listens I will appreciate this more, but right now I would rather listen to “Helicopter Spies Make Me Cry” a few more times...
| Pep Lester & His Pals — The Mathematical Genius of Pep Lester (Forced Exposure) 2LP 1988
A collection of musical experiments directed by one Phil Milstein. “Me And The Boys” sounds like (with a little help from Jad Fair) some mutant cross between Throbbing Gristle and Jandek. Things get weird from there, including 2 versions of “We Are They Ache With Amorous Love,” one of which was recorded with the vocals sung backwards (phonetically) and then played back backwards, so the words that we hear are forwards, but very strange. The words to “My Girlfriend Lives Like A Redneck” were sent to a song production factory in Nashville (advertised in the back of a magazine). The results are very odd. There isn’t much on these two records that isn’t unusual in some humorous way. The second disk is full of short excerpts from obscure bands like Uzi, Poetry & Motion, and many that I have never heard of. There are two pseudo-Velvet Underground covers contributed by Kenne Highland: “All Pep Lester’s Parties” and “I’m Waiting For Maureen Tucker.” Ellie Marshal with Christmas do a very pretty “Ciao Allston,” which I like a lot.
| Po! — Little Stones (Rutland Records) LP 1990
Ruth Miller’s Po! is one of my favorite bands: lots of jangly guitars, tight drumming and beautiful singing. They have a new record out, supposedly, but it is not available domestically so I will review their first LP instead. A running theme on this album is loss innocence, “Lemon Girl you used to try my clothes on/while we laughed at boys with scabby knees/Even money won’t bring back the fun/of hopscotch in the snow,” Miller sings on “Confidence.” She possesses the ability to use images and stories from childhood in a way that isn’t trite or disgustingly obvious. For example at one point she sings “Sticks and stones may break my bones/but names will always kill me in the end,” and it completely rocks, whereas if most other singers used that line, I would think them to be simpletons. Also: “If you swallow apple seeds /you’ll have a baby tree and you’ll be dead./I wouldn’t sit under the apple tree/in case one fell upon my head.” This array of childhood images is masterfully done, as reflected upon by an introspective adult. Although all of the songs are “sad,” there is a happy, relaxing quality to them, helped by the spirited musical backings, and bits of humor, as in the pun title of “Ruthless” that contains the chorus “Don’t be...like me...no one like me got anywhere.” Every song on this record, including a really tuneful and giggleful version of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do,” overwhelms me with its power and beauty. Definitely anyone who has any liking for Felt or the Wedding Present will dig this to no end. I cannot say enough good things about this record.
| George Russell — Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature (Flying Dutchman) LP 1971
This is an excellent record that is equal mixture free jazz, musique concrete, and minimalism. It seems unlikely that such a combination could work, but Russell succeeds in producing an exciting concoction for his listeners. The backbone of the fifty-two minute work is a tape of processed electronic sounds and samples. It is over this basis that a six piece band, with Russell on piano, Jan Garbarek on tenor sax, along with trumpet, drums, bass and electric guitar, improvises. The tape by itself is a fine piece of work, and is similar to what some bands, like the Hafler Trio or PGR are doing now, 20 some years later. There is a wide variety of the types of sounds put onto the tape, including drones, ring modulation, Pink-Floydish organ doodles and, at the beginning of side two, recordings of native African chants and instruments, which further expand the record’s eclectic montage. The tape is truly ambient, in that it is the environment in which the band works. Inspired by the tape, the band takes over and dominates, improvising music until having completed its statement, then quiets and allows the tape resume its course uninterrupted. At times the band, or fractions of the band, subtly enters the stream of the tape, neither taking over, nor being dominated. The ever changing relationship between the tape and the band provides a large variety of interesting music. Much praise must be given to Garbarek, who adeptly adopts many different modes of playing, from slow melodic lines in conjunction with the trumpet and guitar, to explosive bursts of cacophony. For the most part Russell sits out of the improvisations, mostly being heard as a bouncy pulse of two chords during the similar-sounding first and last sections (this is a “sonata”). My only negative criticism of the piece is the somewhat superfluous nature of the guitar, played by Terje Rypdal, whose solo at the end of side two stands out as being out of place with its unrefined wah-wah playing. All in all, this electronic sonata is a surprisingly interesting record. It is highly recommended, if you can find it. Russell also has another version of this piece recorded in 1980 on Soul Note Records, again with him leading, but this is the superior version.
| Royal Trux — “Back To School” / “Cleveland” (Drag City) 7” 1993
“Back To School” starts off right, with some harpsichord/prepared piano-like plinkings, but then jumps into something out of a mid-70’s T-Rex album. It is not awful, but I’ve listened to this in High School, which is maybe what the title is all about: personally, school is not somewhere I’d like to go back to. “Cleveland” continues similarly, complete with multiple lead guitars and very goopy bass. “There’s no reason to fail, but you know you will.”
| Rutles Highway Revisited (Shimmy Disc) LP 1990?
Ok, I admit I though the Rutles were a real band, never having been told otherwise, or having seen the Neil Innes movie, which I guess was based on bad versions of Beatles songs. Although most of the songs are humorous, the ones I really liked were Lida Husik’s takeoff on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (with the bassline to “Lady Madonna” in the chorus), Das Damen’s reworking of “I am The Walrus” (“Piggy In The Middle”), the appropriation of the orchestra wind-up in “A Day In The Life” by Galaxie 500 for “Cheese & Onions” (Wareham’s guitar feedback over the orchestra is particularly funny). There are also songs by Shonen Knife, Unrest, Daniel Johnson, and Bongwater (who do an amusing flower-power “love love love” song). This record gives a frightening glimpse at what the Beatles could have done with their ambition, but without any talent .
| Sabalon Glitz — “Orpheum” / “Zoroaster” (Trixie Records) 7” 1993
One of the last things I did before I left Chicago was to grab a 7” from this intoxicating quartet. The first song is at once punky and driving, languid and motionless. Contradictions? What do you expect from intelligent punkers who call themselves Sabalon Glitz? (Do you know what episode of Dr. Who their namesake was in? I am almost ashamed to admit that I’ve seen it. Twice. [2012 update: I have no idea what I was talking about here. –ed.]) On the first side that I played (take your pick for the title), the female singer screams out “Where’s the fire?!” over the square-wave guitar buzz and sharp drums as a calm voice mimics the question through a megaphone. These are, in fact, the only words I can understand from either of these voices throughout the entire song. The fire is in my mind and it is the fire of ignorance, but also of appreciation. The second song starts with hypnotic sitar-like chord strums which are soon joined by the bass drums. The voice works its way in, growing in intensity and frustration. Both of these are great songs and I look forward to hearing more from them. If you haven’t heard them yet, perhaps you should. Huh?
| Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet — Take Outs (Derivative Records) 7” 1993?
After a Galaxie 500-like introduction, “The Jerney” quickly turns into a surf-music extravaganza that first plays with the James Bond Theme and then gets into some reverb-drenched chords played very sharply. Too soon, the song returns to the Ga1500 theme and ends. “Song Of The Lobster” is much more spunky and melodic and I want to go out and buy everything this band has ever done. I know that I’ve only hurt myself by not doing it long ago.
| Kendra Smith / Keith Levene & Hillel Slovak “Stile Im Meine Hamburg” / “Clothesline” (Overzealous Editions) 7” 1993?
This mysterious little 7” appeared in the stores one day without warning, without explanation and certainly without any indication of what speed to play it at. No problem; we always appreciate a good mystery around these parts. The first side, which claims to be from Kendra Smith is (at 45 rpm) a slowish song in German over dense piano and monotonous church-bell, with numerous strange noises filling in the background and further adding to the mystery of the piece. It could easily fit in with the noise tracks that fill the spaces between Smith’s delightful Guild of Temporal Adventurers EP. This song is very odd but nice listening and it is good to hear Kendra Smith in any form, especially exploring the unexpected. The B-side is an uninteresting piece of jazz-disco, with drum machine, funky bass, organs and guitar. I’ve listened to it at both speeds of my turntable, and neither speed appeals any more than the other. How these two different pieces of music came to be placed on the same piece of plastic is yet another mystery.
| Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — Extra Width (Matador) LP 1993
When I first heard this record in clubs over the summer, I assumed it was some lost masterpiece from the 70s that the radio stations in Houston where I grew up were not cool enough to play. The Blues Explosion does just that, bombastically exploding the cliche-ridden landscape of blues-rock. Spencer’s voice, deep and gruff on “Afro,” almost cracking on “Backslider,” brings to mind someone who has spent a life eating nasty soul-food and consuming unfiltered cigarettes by the pool hall. I especially love the muttered ramblings of “soul letter.” The guitars are always rough and gritty, and groove and ebb just so right, and Spencer’s screeching guitar and theremin leads are fabulous.
| Unrest / Stereolab — Tour Single (Teen Beat) 7” 1993
The split single from the Unrest and Stereolab tour this summer features a great Unrest song and a mediocre Stereolab song. "Where Are All The Puerto Rico Boys?" by Unrest has computer bleeps, a groovy bass/drums intro (which recurs throughout the work), and some great churning guitar that. This side ends with a long incoherent rambling that I cannot even pretend to understand, and might have something to do with the title of the song. Any clues, send them my way. Stereolab’s “Mountain” sounds like something from Peng!, which is not a bad thing, but lacks that entrancing intensity of most of their work. If it were in the middle of Peng!, it would build upon that album’s mood, but here in this isolated context left me hanging. The Austin stop of the Unrest/Stereolab tour was incredible, and this 7” will serve as a fine reminder of that memorable show.
Reviews by some aimless drifter...