ISSUE 13   FALL 2002
page 8 of 16



Okay, at times this Carnival Folklore Resurrection series can seem a little too much like the Noodly Practice Tapes Resurrection series. Usually the SCG overcome it; for example, CFR#1 (Cameo Demons and Their Manifestations) seemed especially tossed-off-in-an-hour, but once I allowed its non-stop spirit-of-Buddy Rich jive to gain momentum, I became quite a convert. CFR#2 (The Dreamy Draw) put the lo-fi improv into another refreshingly narrow focus; instead of Buddy Rich, this time it was 'bell-driven, soft, and pretty." The result was a very cohesive and, yes, dreamy album that became the popular choice for 'best early CFR.'
        I intentionally slept on #3 and #4, but ordered the live-in-concert #5 (Severed Finger With A Wedding Ring) after Billy Kiely called it the "best CFR so far" on the Forced Exposure website. After getting it from the UPS man and giving it that first spin, I have to admit I felt like a sucker for about a minute. It did seem pretty worthwhile because it was such a bold classic rock move: an as-it-was recording of a recent hot-ticket show in a rock club. It puts the mystery-shrouded Girls in a whole new context to hear them rocking out in front of a big crowd of cheering hipsters as if they were Superchunk or something. It was also interesting to hear the Girls, after rocking the crowd's socks off with the first two or three numbers, pull the plug and spend the next 45 straight minutes doing -- surprise -- noodly improv. The same old 'prov here is a more rigorous exercise than the low-key home-recorded stuff, because it goes on forever, it gets extremely microtonal, and it documents them silencing and probably frustrating a presumably adoring crowd.
        After #5, I skipped ahead to CFRs # 7 and 8 (Sumatran Electric Chair and Libyan Dream, respectively), which both really stood out because they both actually sounded like classically sequenced albums, not quick throwaway missives. All SCG heads love all SCG albums, but some part of me almost wants to call Sumatran Electric Chair their single best record (even with all the field recordings that led one list-serv grumbler to dismiss it as "a Climax Golden Twins album"). And, Libyan Dream is actually as good as (and stylistically similar to) Torch of the Mystics.
       And now, after all that, I'm ready to go back to CFR #3, (Superculto), because I just picked it up used. It's surprising that they pulled albums like Sumatran out after this one, because, while I have heard the SCG occasionally get near the bottom of the barrel, Superculto is the first time I've actually heard them scraping it, being really nothing more than just straight complacent improv, with the whole American Gamelan schtick finally wearing out its welcome a bit. The first track does have a nice trance-chord approach from the guitar, but it's promise sort of evaporates within a minute or two. After giving up on the album, track five came along nicely as a razor-scissor warzone-improv power trio slap to attention. It's like something off Valentines From Matahari given a much sharper recording treatment. But even that one only lasts for a couple minutes before the guys doze off and start noodling, and then the next track takes us right back to more complacent gourd-shaking bell-tinkling improv. Oh, you know, there's 'plenty of good moments' throughout. Nothing they do sucks. But, rarely are they this nondescript.

SUN CITY GIRLS: Live From Planet Boomerang 2LP (MAJORA)
Here's an oldie I hadn't heard until now, and it's interesting to note that a lot of it comes across much like the CFR releases: a classic song or two surrounded by lots of noodly improv. The first of the two records, in fact, is about 80% noodly improv, and again slightly disheartening, but wow, do they make up for it with the second record. Side three is just a beautiful, long, eerie trance piece called "Amazon One," and side four starts with the cut that makes the album, a rustic version of "Space Prophet Dogon." It also appears, with considerably more bombast, on Torch of the Mystics, but this version might just be my single favorite SCG track, as it seems to single-handedly invent the idea of Revenant Records, sounding at once like an old-time blues 78, Sonny Sharrock's "Blind Willie," and the campfire song of a Hare Krishna colony on Venus. (I should point out that this album isn't really a live album in the sense that CFR #5 is. It'd be cool if Live From Planet Boomerang, being a double LP, was the SCG's answer to Frampton Comes Alive or Double Live Gonzo, just as CFR#5 was their answer to Some Enchanted Evening or Intensities in Ten Cities. But, the sleeve isn't gatefold, and more importantly, none of it seems to be recorded at a live venue or rock club of any kind. There is no audible audience. (Though it does seem to be recorded live in the sense that there are no overdubs.)

First track "Fistfight" reminds me of the Hair Police and Andrew W.K. doing a side project together where they chant "Fist! Fight! Fist! Fight!....Fight! Kick! Fight! Kick!....Right! Left! Punch! Kick!" But where W.K. is feel-good, the dance groove here is pretty ominous and the gruff call-to-violence vocals add a freaky raw feel, like some kind of teen art-fascism rally. It's that element, along with the combination of processed guitar and rigid drum-machine beats, that makes me think of Big Black. Track two ("DX Danse Brigade (Remix)") for example, features Velocity Hopkins doing some mean extended guitar jams. Track three "Lazers" is a great song, with a soulful sci-fi call-and-response hook. It's an all-around danse hit for the summer. In fact, that makes five songs now, for my theoretical Feel Good/Feel Like Ya Should: Hits for the Summer of 2002 mix tape. That's practically enough for a whole side. It could start off with "Lazers" by Danse Asshole, then go into "Fog Face," that 13-minute jam on Mammal's new LP (see next review), then the live handheld bootleg that I wish I'd made last week of that new Lightning Bolt song that starts with Chippendale doing that heraldic call to arms ("doot dee doot do doooo..."), and then Gibson answering on the bass, 'cause that's definitely a hit for the summer. Then the new Eminem song that I've only heard so far from passing cars, and then, for a little breather, something from the new Flaming Lips album. Probably "Do You Realize?", a beautiful song. Velocity Hopkins and Brian Chippendale probably would no sooner listen to the new Flaming Lips album than they would wear sandals to go see an Elephant 6 showcase at South by Southwest. Well, I wouldn't do any of that shit either, but I would listen to the new Flaming Lips album. Anyway, check out Danse Asshole. This is good stuff, by a supergroup! (Featuring members of 25 Suaves, Men's Recovery Project, Forcefield, et al.)

After a good number of cassette and CD-R releases in just the last year on his own Animal Disguise label, the act known as Mammal makes a much-deserved foray into quality vinyl via the Scratch 'n' Sniff label of Kalamazoo, MI. The first track on here is 13 minutes long and it is an absolute stunner for the summer. The most laid-back funky ass beat imaginable kicks for all 13 minutes while Mr. Mlitter freaks it atop. I guess after that, the rest of the LP struck me as a little more 'industrial' sounding, not quite as sexy as that endless first track. Still pretty hammering and if you're looking to get your cranium rattled it will do the trick. And regardless, even if this had been a one-sided 12-inch dance single featuring only the 13-minute track, it would still be worth the cover price, decimating as it does the entire Kompakt and Profan catalogs all by itself. (Please get Mammal's We Are Real cassette from the Animal Disguise label as well.)

LETHE: Sleep Digest CD (PALE-DISC)
This was mailed to me a couple years ago, before Blastitude had even started, and I listened to it once and then put it away because I wasn't in the mood. A couple months ago I was digging through all my 'sleeved' CDs and there it was. I thought I should throw it in the shuffler and give it another chance while it was there in front me. A couple days went by, and I started wondering what the fuck that one evil instrumental CD in my changer was, the one that kept popping up in the middle of all the Bread, Beach Boys, Foghat and T-Rex. Whatever this strange band/artist was, it assayed an evil electronic burble that was not only right up there with Wolf Eyes and all the other Bulbs and Loadies and Skin Grafters and Unlimited Troublemen, but, unlike the majority of that whole pile-up, it seemed completely free of the need to have 1) a super-loud drummer, 2) a quirky screaming singer, and 3) a quirky Residents influence. Hell, I bet Lethe doesn't even wear a mask when he performs live!

Here's one I did buy at Weekend. Now I'm looking back on the Forced Exposure blurb, which describes it has having "...The typical Cologne style: Dubby Minimal House with Click-Techno elements." Makes me wonder why I decided to buy it -- that sounds pretty uneventfully normal. Maybe, I'll admit it, it was because it was in Jimmy Johnson's Top 30 list for one month. Or maybe it was because of the one-color cover design (after walking around the Berlin Mitte for a couple days and nights in 2000, I'm a sucker for German design). Or maybe, just maybe, it was because of the title, which reminded me of Neu!'s Neu Age Rock classic, "Fur Immer." (Means "Forever," so I guess this title just means "Ever.") Anyway, I thought a mix CD of German dubby outside-of-a-club micro-house would be just the thing, but strangely it really is quite uneventful. The music sounds great, but never really ends up feeling great. Dunno, really.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: From Pieces... (Audio Dispatch 4) CD-R (FREE103POINT9)
Another missive from Brooklyn's FREE103POINT9 collective, with various combinations of a small group of musicians ambling their way through misterioso drone/improv, musique concrete, dub, avant classical, free jazz, spoken word, contemporary classical, etc. Nothing especially new about any of the styles, except that these not-exactly-household-names (Matt Bua, Barry London, Matt Mikas, Tom Roe, Seth Price) seem to do them all very well, and the aforementioned 'ambling' feel (which all the discs in this Audio Dispatch series have) keeps these kind of art shenanigans from being pretentious or otherwise alienating. What's more, stuck in the middle of several shorter edits are two quite powerful long pieces, one a spiky Braxtonian avant-chamber jazz piece by the Nuzion Piano Trio (another offshoot of the whole Atlanta/Gold Sparkle crew) and a really excellent piece of Far Eastern loft jamming by the sextet of Neel Murgai + Paul Ash + Chikako Iwahori + Irena + Felix Chen + Ryan Sawyer on daf drum, hurdy gurdy, tap dancing, bass and bongos.

CERAMIC HOBS: Straight Outta Rampton CD (PUMF)
This is probably even better than Psychiatric Underground. First proper track, "Dancing Queen" (track 2 on the CD after the de rigeur mix/skit opening track) features one of these goofy Brits doing a really good New York soul DJ rap as "The Dancing Queen" while the rest of the band chants like girls: "The gay skinhead will wank you... The gay skinhead will wank you off...", all powered by a Chic sample. Then some dazed/drunken Brit doing a spoken interlude that ends with, "'E's a foo'in' gay skinnid, in' he?" Then track three, "Shaolin Master," the second summer anthem in a row from these dudes ("The Gay Skinhead" is kind of a weird summer anthem, I'll admit, but it works for me), features psychedelic Clash-chords while a guy (probably the same guy who was The Dancing Queen) talks over the riff, steadily working up to a yell on subjects like: "I'm a SHAOLIN MASTER!!! YEAH!!!" Then "The Prowler," more of a sun-kissed skiffle ballad where it sounds like Syd Barrett and Tiny Tim are fighting over the mic, until you start listening close to the lyrical content and find out that 'twee' isn't exactly the word -- more like 'harrowing.'
        Well, I can't write about all of the tracks or it'll be like my Prince Paul Prince Among Thieves review all over again. I will mention track six, "Islam Uber Alles," which is obviously an anthem, just like that Dead Kennedys song was, only even more bilious in its sarcasm, as they chant "Osama bin Laden, we salute you! Saddam Hussein, we salute you!" Now, now, don't be blasphemed so easily: these guys don't support the government and society that put them in mental institutions, and saluting the power elite of the Middle East is just their way of saying it. In the same song they salute Sonny Bono and Andrea Dworkin, which is also part of their way of saying it. These guys aren't terrorists, they're poetic terrorists. The song was written and recorded a good year before September 11th. And it's a real rocker, infused with non-gratuitous dub touches! Besides, aren't liner notes like "Remember: The human race is disgusting. Fucking Bastards! I'm going to piss on your graves. Do the planet a favour KILL YOURSELF" more scandalous than saying "Osama bin laden, we salute you!"?
       Alright, in the time it took me to work all that up, the CD has played through to track 10, which is straight-up collage de concrete. Speaking of which, in the CD booklet the Hobs draw up a song-by-song sample credit list. At first I thought it was a bunch of liner-note shout-outs, which I guess it is as well. Just look at the Dancing Queen credits: 'Chic, Yoko Ono, Abba, "The Sun," "Furamar" chinese takeaway, V.D. Parks, Brian Wilson, Duncan of Freck, Stream Angel, Cloughy/Malcolm + Tony "the cat" Martin.' Or, how about the credits for "We Are the Mods": 'Temple of Din film soundtrack, dumb advert, Kev Trundley/Jak Sowerby, Squire/Secret Affair, NJ blues symphony Rathleale winter 98, Andy Martin, mystery artist - tape supplied by West Orange, BBC Radio Lancashire/Mr. Whippy/Culture Club." How could this not be a great album? The Hobs are the new Roxy Music, the new T. Rex, the new Syd Barrett, all as if Joe Strummer had never happened.
       And there's track 13, which I'm v. stoked to announce is "Amateur Cops," the same all-time rock anthem that devastated on the Muckraker #9 compilation CD, for those who might've missed it. I really love this song. I just played it on the radio last week. I like it so much that I wish they'd used a better drummer. It's that good. Okay, there's more tracks, but I'm done. Yes, like 99% of all albums, Straight Outta Rampton is overlong, but that's part of the Hobs aesthetic: to fill the canvas completely, to all available edges. And, because the Hobs happen to be artistic geniuses, Rampton really does give you more bang for your buck. Speaking of which, the best way to use bucks to buy this album is from Migidum/Bligablum distribution.

PRINCE PAUL: A Prince Among Thieves CD (TOMMY BOY)
When I first read about Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves I was convinced it was a masterpiece. Never mind that I hadn't heard it yet; I just figured that Prince Paul, after all the masterful atmospheres and skit-work he created on the first three De La Soul albums, would be a natural to do a full-fledged hip-hop opera. (Notice I didn't say hip-hopera. Thank me later.) Having no chance in Nebraska of hearing it on the radio, and this being pre-Napster, I found myself eyeing a single copy that sat in the bins at Homer's (downtown Lincoln record store) for quite a while -- but I certainly wasn't gonna pay $16.98 for any new CD, not then, not now, not in 2010.
        Luckily, a month or few later, I was at a party at Ivan Layton's and he had it, was into it, and wanted me to hear it, so he put it on. In the midst of a bunch of partygoers who weren't especially interested in the album, I tried to listen. It took a while to get goin' -- a lot of talking during skits that, though well-produced, seemed a little too expository. Hardly any loud sound effects or wild punchlines... mostly just people talking. It wasn't until track four, ten minutes or so in, that a hook actually made it over the party noise: an Ice Cube cover/homage/parody called "Steady Slobbin." After that, the album went back to more exposition, and the party won my attention completely for the next several tracks. When Kool Keith's appearance came along, Layton made me listen, but then I went back to the party for good and it was a year before I heard the album again.
       Until now, that is; since last ish, I've borrowed C.M. Sienko's copy to see if I can have any more luck with it. Frankly, my first few listens, even in my quiet home, led to much the same reaction. I didn't follow the story, and, though my attention was intermittently won over by really good hip-hop songs, I never knew what was going on or what the characters were talking about. With more listens, the really good hip-hop songs became pretty much great, and I decided to really sit down, apply my increasingly over-occupied mental facilities, and give the album a real 'close reading,' a real 'once-over' for once and for all. I got the story this time, and even better, I got a wealth of nice Prince Paul touches.
Highlight reel:
        1. Right near the beginning, main characters True and Tariq, an aspiring MC who is working on a demo for the Wu-Tang Clan, are riding in a car together, expressing their friendship. Tariq plays True the music he's been working on. Upon hearing the sample and groove, True asks, "Yo, didn't Kane use that?" "Yeah, but listen to how we flip it," responds Tariq. The two are inspired to rap lyrical verses over the rough mix, encouraging each other during the breaks: "You feelin' this shit?" "Yo, I am feeling this shit!" and "You still got it, old timer!" Tariq even demonstrates, by singing, the loops he wants to add to the track, such as a Michael Jackson sample, and really it's no wonder this stuff is confusing to a casual listener.
Another potentially confusing number is "The Call," a phone-call rap, which features Tariq having conversations in verse with two different girls, switching from one to the other by using call-waiting. The backing track uses rock guitar arpeggios and fuzz guitar hooks, but this ain't no nu-metal bullshit -- you don't even really notice that it's a guitar until the very end. This song also features a vocal hook based on "Let 'Em In" by Paul McCartney, as does a completely unrelated recent song by some Wu-Tang member, I think U-God, which is kind of an odd coincidence.
        3. In order to finish the demo, Tariq needs one thousand dollars. He asks True for it, but True offers to set him up as a drug dealer, where he can make that much in just a few days.
Tariq accepts, with the intention to quit as soon as the grand is raised. The first step is for Tariq to buy a gun, because a hustler needs a gun like a zine editor needs a word processor. True takes him to a kooky criminal "weapons specialist" named Crazy Lou who sells guns from an abandoned building "on 112th," a high-security black-market outpost called Weapon World. Crazy Lou is portrayed by the Octagonycologist himself, Kool Keith. Tariq's narration describes the Crazy Lou character as "always ill, but highly intelligent," which probably describes Kool Keith as well. When the shoppers approach, Keith/Lou asks "What's the password, nerd?" in his ridiculously monotone skit-acting style. "Enema bandit," says True, which sounds like a password Kool Keith would use. I swear that's a Frank Zappa reference, but Sienko isn't so sure, because the Zappa song was based on a well-known bit of 1970s lore that was actually reported in newspapers. Either way, I could see both Paul and Keith having Zappa in New York in their collection, because they once bought it for three bucks or something.
         The Keith monotone is hilarious for his delivery of his next line: "Welcome to Weapon World, where if you find a better weapon at a lower price, I will buy your girlfriend a new weave." The track begins and it's another good one, with an ominous keyboard groove and some cool synth/concrete effects rattling and wiggling in the background. Keith is good too, using his trademark cadence, but staying in character as Crazy Lou as he rattles off futuristic endorsements of his high-tech merchandise. Late in the song, he does become Keith for a second when he mentions "camouflage-green alligators." And, after the song, when Tariq makes his purchase, Lou complements it with a line that is all Keith: "Ah! Fine choice! Powerful yet lightweight, and it hides well in your anal or crotch area. That's right, including your butt-pockets."
         4. A quick, sordid tour of the underworld follows, doubling as an excuse to introduce several more guest rappers. Next on the list is Mr. Large, the biggest dealer in town, played by Chubb Rock. He's so big, you have to meet a small army first: his bodyguards, played by a group I've never heard of elsewhere called Horror City. This is another standout track, with Paul laying down an incredible Muggs/RZA drone-hook, one note from a female soul vocal looped. At first I thought it was a horn or a guitar, and I'm still not positive that it isn't. And Horror City are like a Wu Jr., a parade of mostly anonymous but intense and sturdy script-flippers. When Mr. Large and Tariq do meet, Large reads his resume: "I see you know how to handle money...shift manager at Boston Chicken...
rather impressive..."
         5. Who else should be in Mr. Large's entourage than Big Daddy Kane himself, portraying the resident pimp, Count Macula. Unfortunately, it's yet another undistinguished performance by the former master. Kane just ain't got it anymore, and hasn't had it for over a decade, but that's okay because Long Live The Kane is a true masterpiece.
        6. Chubb Rock does a great 'a capella' rap as Mr. Large, with Biz Markie as his beat-boxing flunky. He says the line "I love black people but I can't stand niggers," which is the same thing I heard from white people in Iowa and Nebraska, where I attributed it to bigotry. Of course, the white people didn't "love black people," like they should've (sometimes Jesus was right), they just "had no problem with 'em" or some other loaded condescension.
7. The track "Put the Next Man On" has an incredible ghostly atmosphere, complete with spooky rattles for the bombed-out melancholy verses, and then one of the more memorable chorus hooks of the album: "If you got some flow / and I got some flow / (and) you getting dough / nigga and I'm gettin' dough / we can chill on the hill (word dog) / and put the next man on / when we supposed to put him on." I'm not sure if it's about creating a customer base of cocaine addicts or making rap albums. Both, I guess, because in the storyline the characters speaking are involved in both. It seems like a lot of Prince Paul's songs end up being about the record business.
       8. In a performance worthy of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock plays a basehead who offers his crack bitch in exchange for more cocaine, and when that fails he offers that recurring folk image from 90s hip hop culture: the blowjob from the male crackhead in exchange for more cocaine. This bit of grand guignol closes with Rock sobbing, "It's hard being hooked!", which Prince Paul segues into one of the sunnier songs on the album, "More Than U Know," with perennial nice guys De La Soul the guest rappers. That is, the beat and the hook (a girl group unforgettably singing "I like it!"), are sunny, but De La seem to be rapping about drug addiction. As usual, though, I really have no idea what they're talking about with their obtuse wordplay 'n' metaphors
"Mood For Love" is a jazzy love song, sung by longtime Prince Paul collaborator Don Newkirk (I actually think they're the same person). The storyline has it that True sets Tariq up with a prostitute, and in place of their conjugal relations Newkirk sings as Tariq's conscience, swept away Sinatra-style in a rather sardonic "mood for love." Pharcyde did this style first with their song "Otha Fish," and that was a whole lot better of a track, though this is fine as an interlude and the opening dialogue between Sweet Tee (as the prostitute) and Breeze (as Tariq) is hilarious.
Everlast gets a juicy role as an asshole cop for "The Men In Blue," delivering his lines with such vitriol it's not surprising he had a heart attack a year or so after this recording. This song has one of the album's most memorable chorus hooks: "The police department is like a crew / It does whatever it wants to do." Another rapper-playing-a-bad-cop announces with chilling plausibility: "We're the most organized criminals in Manhattan." The cops catch Tariq with the hooker, plant drugs on the crime scene, and throw him into the third precinct, "locked up, set up, and fucked up," just two days before his meeting with the Wu. It was True set him up, but he also has himself to blame for his decision to dabble in the criminal underground, which has brought swift and terrible retribution. He meets some fellow prisoners: Sadat X from Brand Nubian is immediately recognizable. Another inmate is played by Xzibit, who I've heard of before but only actually heard on this track. To this day I have no recollection of what he sounds like, probably because he's overshadowed by Sadat's swing. Kid Creole is on here too -- Kid Creole from the Furious Five...or the Coconuts? Probably the former, but I don't recognize him on here.
       11. After being visited by
the reverend of his community, who gives a fiery sermon in the skit tradition of, what, Ice Cube's second record?, Tariq gets out of jail. I still haven't really noticed how. He immediately calls RZA to inquire about his meeting. In a rather amusingly loquacious over-the-phone cameo, RZA informs Tariq that while he was in prison, True auditioned for, and secured, the last spot RZA had left on his label. True even used Tariq's beats! This leads to the Wild West-meets-Romeo and Juliet finale, in which Tariq confronts True coming out of his house. Both have guns, and a mexican standoff ensues. Suspensefully, a song begins before any shots ring out; forebodingly, the song is called "You Got Shot." As soon as the song ends, shots do ring out, and if you still remember the operatic first skit that opened the album way back at the beginning (73 minutes or so ago), you know that both got hit. In that skit, we heard Tariq contemplating suicide, believing that he has killed his 'brother.' At the end we hear him go through with it. Seconds later, we learn from world-weary (and hip-hop-skit white) paramedics that True's wound was not fatal after all. Another fast jump to a montage of hip hop DJs announcing the RZA-produced debut record by MC True; he has officially stolen from Tariq. (Rawkus fans will enjoy Evil Dee, playing himself, appearing at the end of the montage.) A song follows, performed by Sha as True, but it's not the celebratory jam that the chorus of DJ's might lead one to expect; it's the remorseful, melancholy, summary title track about the tragedy that has occurred. Each chorus closes with the understated moral of the story: "Before hustlin', we were friends." (Waitaminnit, the more I listen to the album the more this song sounds like True constructing an alibi for his involvement in his friend's death, lying about Tariq having been "a cocaine seller, a cocaine user." What a villain!)
 So there's the highlight reel. This album is a masterpiece, but you really have to sit down and listen to it intently if you want to experience it as a story. Though both are great, it's hard to really tell who's who between and Breeze as Tariq or Sha as True (who as who and who as who?) on a casual listen.
         And, on the other hand, even if you understandably choose to not pay attention to the actual storyline in order to just listen to it as a collection of slammin' background music, the lengthy and consistent between-song skits will make it a strange, momentum-free listening experience. Either way, I think you eventually start paying more and more attention to the story; it's always worth the wait for the next great song, and it's still hard to follow every little piece of dialogue, so it holds up to repeat listening, even if the story is really melodramatic, with Tariq getting brought down by the world of crime almost as fast as that guy off the bus in Stevie's "Living for the City" got arrested. It's true that at 80 minutes the CD can easily feel too long, although you gotta admire Prince Paul's ambition to make the record as long as a feature film. What saves it is that every song is good, literally, and the skits also consistently entertain, due to lots of period details. (
As a funny aside, look where takes you.)



Nobukazu Takemura "Sign"
  After a kind of questionable skipping start, a sunny groove kicks in and this song seems like something that actually fulfills the glorious promise that was made to me by a compilation/instructional LP I bought in 1984 called Breakdance, which had a cover of Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" on it, by a group called 10-Speed. That opened my head up a bit, to the idea of pop-and-lock music done by people who weren't African-American, and now this song re-opens that same door (of perception). Breakdance music for nerds who know how to dance, in other words.

Spoonie Gee & The Sequence "Monster Jam"   Killer and very sexy jam, featuring the legendary "One for the trouble, two for the time" sample, which is legendary because of Spoonie Gee's deep-toned ultra-cool voice. The raps are all about sex, with Spoonie Gee and all three members of The Sequence coming on to each other hard. Chorus is an almost cheesy horn breakdown, a la "Kick It Live (From 9 to 5)" by Sugarhill Gang (played by the same production house band, ultimately one of their slightly weaker cuts, an experiment that didn't quite work), but it still destroys due to a destroying Go-Go beat, in which it is amazing to hear DC influence New York (or New Jersey, to be exact) -- after all, they were less than 300 miles apart. Lyrics are classic example of how old school hip hop favored rhythmic push over lyrical content, but the push is so hot that the content becomes great anyway ("I rock the party from week to week/And I rock the party very neat"), especially when Spoonie Gee deadpans "My rap is strong/my love is long" and then Angie B of The Sequence responds "With my brown eyes and my cherry lips/You can't refuse my walnut hips", and then, after getting Spoonie Gee horny for a few more lines, reminds him "I can turn you on and I can turn you off/'Cause I'm in control and I'm the boss." Hotcha!

RZA "Dead Birds" A short instrumental from the Japanese version of the Ghost Dog soundtrack. (The American version features some of RZA's instrumental score, but mostly fills up the running time with guest rapper cuts that aren't even in the movie.) Starts with such an arresting piano sample that every single time it comes on, I just assume I must have my Best of Thelonious Monk on Blue Note CD in the changer. Then, when the unusually long sample starts looping, I remember I'm not even listening to my CD player, I've got my Winamp jukebox on shuffle and I'm listening to MP3's. It's that arresting! Next to this modern jazz by the RZA, even Miles "You're Under Arrest" Davis himself seems like an 'amateur cop'...



Poems From The Akashic Record
by Ira Cohen
Panther Books

To start this review, or perhaps in lieu of writing my own, I feel like echoing the statements made about this book elsewhere in this very issue, in the mammoth phone interview that Cary Loren conducted with Mr. Cohen. The book is thin, but it seems very full. There is nothing groundbreaking about Cohen's style; these are free-ranging free-verse meditations on his place in history/culture/
nature/the universe, and as a worldly New York bard given to cosmic vision Cohen falls right in a tradition that runs from Whitman through Ginsberg to the present. Of course, he brings something new to it; we go from Brooklyn to Khatmandu with surprising ease, as Cohen has lived abroad in deep and mystical/magickal recesses of the Far East. The fact that in the same interview he distances himself from the Beats is apropos. There is something different going on in these conversationally kaleidoscopic poems.

An Emotional Memoir of Martha Quinn
by Alan Licht
Drag City Books

In two different issues of Blastitude I've been ripped off by Alan Licht. First, it was his $10 show at ODUM in Chicago. That was almost a year ago, and honestly, pretty much everything costs $10 in Chicago, so it doesn't seem like as much of a rip-off now as it did then. Still, it was quite the boring show. This book initially seems like even more of a rip-off; it costs $11.95 and it's tiny. I mean, it's just plain slim. Does 76 pages sound slim to you? Well, trust me, it feels slim. When I first picked it up, I was dismayed to say the least, but something made me pay up anyway, and I grumbled all the way home.
         The reason I bought it is that I've always enjoyed his writing. My favorite piece of his isn't the vaunted LaMonte Young article that appeared in Forced Exposure magazine. It was informative, but kinda dry. The Top 10 Minimalism Rarities articles that appeared in Halana magazine were a little more lively, but my favorite work of his is the epistolary essay co-written with correspondent Bruce Russell, that appeared as the liner notes for his best non-Love Child release, his solo CD The Evan Dando of Noise? (Corpus Hermeticum.) Sometimes all a writer has to do is reference the right great song in the right way. Licht did it in this piece, with "Slip Inside This House" by the 13th Floor Elevators. He also put forth a useful analogy: "Songs are bottled water, improv is running water." I think this is pretty accurate, although Licht leaves out the fact that the really good bands can control this metaphor and, when they want to, take their bottle of water and shake it up and actually spray the listener in the face, without dropping the bottle or losing the lid, as it were.
       I would also elaborate that improv is only running water when it's good. When improv isn't that successful, it may still be unbottled water, but it has stopped running and settled into a tepid pool. As for songs, I agree that they always start as bottled water, but when they are good, they become churning, boiling water, and threaten to burst out of the bottle. (Again, the really good bands can actually harness this phenomenon and, also again, selectively splash, or squirt, the listener. Like the album Funhouse is basically a band shaking a bottle of water really menacingly for 6 songs and then on the last song just cutting loose and spraying the water everywhere.)
       But that's all another essay, and none of that's in this book anyway. What he basically does with these 76 pages is relate the music of his lifetime to the culture-at-large of his lifetime. For example, he posits Nirvana and the whole 'year punk broke' stuff as a musical reflection of Clinton's marvelous economy and how it led to the Giulianification of NYC (not to mention to Daley-ing of Chicago). Makes sense to me; scary angst-rock sold records just like Times Square and Wicker Park drew tourists. At the end, Licht himself admits that 76 pages do not make a book. He may be right, but the 76 he's put together here do make a pretty fine tract.






I seem to recall vaguely the first review I read of Atman. To my best recollection it was RRR's Ron (who would have thought?!), frantically raving how great the band was and how pathetic it was that no one had heard them. I never would have imagined being in Ron's shoes someday. The Birdtree (a solo effort by Thuja's Glenn Donaldson) is probably one of the most captivating albums I've heard this year (right along with Ecstatic Peace's Fursaxa, and the stunningly obscure new release by Furisubi); and as of this time, only exists on cd-r.
        If you're looking for a one sentence sum-up, try Richard Youngs' "Oh Father Soil"/Sapphie meets the Atman vibe. This is a delicate, hippie-laced, folk-strummed bliss-out with both engaging instrumentals and a handful of actual songs that are extremely memorable. If you wanted more of Sapphie, if you wished for an extension of whatever elements put Paradieswärts Düül into play --oooh, this album is for you.
       Reviews should not gush or be too sappy, but this is one of those albums that requires restraint. (Shed your manly tear, dear listener!) The only complaint you might level at it is that the songs are very short. (I could see any of these going for ten or twenty minutes but instead they stay around the 3-5 minute mark.) Regardless, it's a great, great album that can't help but find itself both a loyal audience and a genuine vinyl or CD release shortly.        Birdtree isn't widely available, but you should be able to wrangle one out of the Jewelled Antler Label.

VAJRA: Cat Last CD (PSF)
For those who still think that Live in the first year of Heisei was one of the best records of the last decade (yes, I'm guilty of this), Vajra seems to be a continuing effort to capture that night of brilliance. The line up is different. Motoharu Yoshizawa was never part of Vajra, though I felt he would have made a great addition to the line up; impossible now of course, having recently passed away. Instead, Vajra has found Mikami and Haino accompanied by Ishizuka Toshiaki (Ex-Brain Police, Cinorama, and involved with Tomokawa's band), and over the last 4 albums created an enigmatic sound that, while occasionally belonging more to one artist than another, more often than not becomes something none of these artists could accomplish on their own.
        That said, Cat Last is a hit and miss affair, not unlike the past two albums. It's not that the tracks are weak, but unfortunately the album as a whole is not entirely satisfying. Tracks one through three cut the sound that every other release by this trio has left you wishing for. Just those three tracks alone would stand as an amazing EP.
        'The Sky Looks Green To Me' finds Vajra in Mikami-driven mode, very much akin to their first record, and features a beautiful duet by Mikami and Haino. I've got a good chunk of Mikami's albums, but he never sounds like this without Vajra -- weeping, frantic, out of control. The tension sustained across the course of this track is amazing. Worth purchasing the album for this one alone. 'Japanese Cola is Sweet' is a throw back to Ring (Vajra's second) with its weird almost blues-rock riffs, and bizarre rhythmic structures. Great stuff. The third piece, 'Monkey's don't pray,' sounds as though it came right from the Live in the first year of Heisei release. Beautiful, melancholic...but some very silly lyrics. Damn monkeys don't pray.
        It's the remaining three tracks that may leave you scratching your head. They certainly aren't bad tracks, rather they feel as though they were part of an entirely different project. 'Mandala TOOT' is a short, all vocal piece, while 'Sound Deadening' is a gorgeous drifter combining sustained vocals, abstract guitar and a wash of other drones -- I'm not sure how they were produced. 'Sound Deadening' runs 10 minutes, and it maintains a rather mysterious if not threatening mood. I could see Vajra producing an excellent album out of just this sort of material, but it stands nearly in opposition to the energy of the first half of the album. 'Playing wounded--for Musashi' (the album's closer) is hard to describe. A short piece with vocals, piano and acoustic guitar. Improvised elements, but definitely a pastoral ending for an already highly varied outing.
        On record or tape, I think a clear side 1 and 2 would make sense here, but as a CD, there is a certain schizophrenic nature to the album (though that could be levelled at all but perhaps the first Vajra recording). Playing Cat Last for a friend, he described the second side as weak, but I don't think that is true at all. It is as an album that one might wonder what one song has to do with the next, but I doubt that making a coherent album has ever been Vajra's aim. Rather, I would like to view Vajra as the continued creative outcroppings of three outstanding artists; and in that context, album coherency may not really be an issue.
        Regardless, Cat Last is yet another brilliant release on PSF, with more character and charm than a dozen other bands. Probably not eclipsing my love of the first two releases, but a solid third. Definitely one of the better releases this year.