Blastitude 11
ISSUE 13   FALL 2002
page 9 of 16

 

 

REVIEWS BY TIM AHER

http://www.murderinc.com

Ashanti
Total Request Live: Shore Thing
Monday, May 15th                                    

Far more alluring than that of "The Princess of Hip-Hop and R&B" is the mysterious persona of Irv Gotti, apparently the kingpin of "The World's Most Talented Record Label", the new independent Murder Inc. Beyond even that very dubious claim (have you really, really listened to the backing tracks on "Happy" or, even worse, "Foolish"?), there's the problematic oil-and-water image conjured by the producer's pseudonym. As a name, hasn't Irving only served (in this century, anyway) as a substitute for "Isaac" in assimilated Jewish families (says Isaac Asimov in In Memory Yet Green Part I)? And why the fuck are all these rap guys going on TV eulogizing John Gotti? It's seems kind of doubtful that the guy would have done any favors for the rap community, or even the general Black community for that matter. Maybe it's just another index of the weird Nietzschean aspect of the Obscenely Ostentatious (Nouveau) Wealth ethic/aesthetic currently contaminating the mainstream rap scene. Rappers are transcending, or perhaps simply dispensing with, the genre's traditional thematic opposition (Black underclass versus white-capitalist establishment), and turning instead to a thug-nonthug opposition for their prevailing ideology: doesn't matter who's getting fucked over as long as there's honor and most importantly respect among thieves. Another weird nomenclatural point is the name of the label itself: why would any self-respecting musician or producer, especially one whose credibility depends on his audience and customer base's perception of him as a hardass, dare to risk indentification with one of the lamer songs in Bruce Springsteen's spectacularly lame ouevre?
        And why is Murder Inc.'s flagship artist a fucking breathy female pop singer? That "I wanna be your chick" song? The label's image is supposed to be all thugged out, and yet the biggest name on their roster (besides Ja Rule, who's got probably about as much thug credibility as I do) is this icon of feminine vulnerability? I don't know, Irv Gotti seems to have enough respect for Ashanti not to sexualize her too overtly in videos (a la the Vanessa Carleton/Avril Lavigne "put your cock in my mouth" angled-down pout shot), although a promotional poster for her sent to WHPK definitely bore the crotch-focal influence of the Britney Spears ...Baby One More Time cover. But back to her voice: I say mic her up close and without a windscreen, and she could be in Belle & Sebastian or whatever band people who used to be into them like now. That's how not Hip-Hop and R&B she is. And so many people are using live musicians now, even fucking Pink according to MTV News, so why should Ashanti be singing to DAT or Minidisc or whatever? Moreover the two girls who rap on some Ashanti songs suck to nearly the degree of last summer's hit collaboration between Eve and Gwen Stefani. But Ashanti is kind of hot, and I do like her voice, so I was happy to see her interrupt the tedium of mid-season TRL with a live performance of her new single, "Happy." However, the presentation was marred by the conflicting and confusing inclusion of a lot of very clearly gay choreographed male dancers along with the usual obligatorily anonymous rap dudes. Murder Inc. just needs to realize that Ashanti would be best handled as a full-fledged pop singer, which she is, rather than marketed as being somehow thug-oriented, which she's not. As things stand, she's in danger of becoming the (heartbreakingly cute) girl from Trainspotting to Murder Inc.'s Gosford Park.
(Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman says: Check out murderinc.com. It has a great intro, and most web site intros suck!) (UPDATE MUCH LATER: No, never mind, don't click that clink, murderinc.com got bought out! Note the pop-up message...)

HAIR POLICE: Blow Out Your Blood CD (FREEDOM FROM)
I was watching Kornís countdown of their 25-odd favorite music videos on MTV2 this afternoon, and noticed that, during fan-interview sequences, their fans in general had very little to say about why they liked the band. Naturally, when youíre asking someone who identifies himself in terms of how much he likes something exactly why he likes it, it follows that you should expect some degree of tautology in response [ďI like it because itís the kind of thing I likeĒ], but what these kids were saying came off as lacking any kind of sophistication or reasoning whatsoever. Granted, this is a cheap shot at some pretty helpless targets, and moreover the idea of having to justify oneís tastes might be unfamiliar territory for people who havenít alienated close family and childhood friends alike by unthinkingly popping Harry Pussy tapes in the car stereo, but I was expecting something maybe more thought-out than: ďYou know, they just get me going when Iím in the pit; itís like loud and heavy.Ē In a lot of ways, though, this kind of purely physical appreciation does apply rather well to Hair Police. Iíve seen them play twice now: at the University of Chicagoís Festival of the Arts; and more recently at the Freedom From Summer Tourís first Chicago date on July 4th at the Empty Bottle. On both occasions, I got the sense that if left alone by the audience, HP would be playing sets of density approaching that of Cecil Taylor, but their live energy is apparently just so infectious and/or contagious that kids canít help but tackle them, break their shit, and sing in their mics. And Iím as guilty of this as anyone. But the biggest shame about it is that you rarely get to hear what theyíre actually saying. One weird aspect of the lyrical approach is the absence of even abstract referents; when you try to recontextualize any particular song, you end up thinking up something like ďShirts v. Skins" (not on this CD) = [Brown]Shirts versus Skin[head]s, kind of like that part in Among the Thugs where heís talking about the white power disco parties the National Front used to throw in small-town pubs in order to recruit soccer thug kids, but there was this weird tension between the dudes who were all into like SS uniforms and the kids that just wanted to take off their shirts and dance. Which is kind of the same weird tension you get at Hair Police shows: youíve got your band, whoíre trying their best to play their best, and then youíve got everyone else, and they just want to get down. Iím really looking forward to seeing Hair Police resolve this, and I imagine theyíll be beyond mind-blowing by the time they come back around on the second Midwest leg of the tour. Anyway, I give Blow Out Your Blood my wholehearted and unqualified endorsement: itís fucking punishing in ways I really like but donít really understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS BY THE
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
(Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman)

 

ANGRY SAMOANS/MC5/FOGHAT: Cal State Irvine 2-2-80/Grande Ballroom, '68/ROCK AROUND THE WORLD radio 1-10-76 CD-R (NO LABEL)
Let's hear it for bootlegs! This one from down around Slippytown. First up: the Angry Samoans live in 1980. Track one is a total cock-rock cut-up mess as crazed as Live and Shave, but it's only a few seconds long. Track two starts with a few seconds of audience noise, and amongst the party sounds I swear I hear a girl's ass get slapped. Well, the Angry Samoans started as a Dictators cover band, and if you've read "Handsome Dick Throws the Party of the Century," Meltzer's first-hand account of being at a Dictators party in 1975, you might see a connection. Proto stripper rock or something, or at least this is what stripper rock could've been, if the Crüe hadn't earned the crown. (I should point out that the girl really does sound like she likes it!)
       Another tape cut takes us right into a hot rocker and I realize this is the first time I've heard the Angry Samoans. And you know what? They shred! It doesn't sound like overt comedy rock or even smut rock, which I had assumed they kinda were, a la Gregg Turner and Mike Saunders' previous band Vom, with their flagship song "Electrocute Your Cock" (which, comedy smut rock or not, was even more shreddin' than the hot-shreddin' Samoans). First song ends and they barely skip a beat before going right into another shreddin' song. This set was probably bootlegged by Crawlin' Ed himself. 1980! A little bit of history! The horrible quality doesn't bother me one bit either, and in fact sounds wonderul in many places. Reminds me of listening to the live Electric Eels tracks on Those Were Different Times, complete with similar stage banter: fag-baiting jokes, and a rap about "eating vomit" that isn't really a joke at all, and in fact a rather vicious screed that must've been pulled from that same trash can that the Eels were the very first rock band to vomit into, you know the one, behind the building where John Waters and Charles Baudelaire live.
       And after 18 minutes of the Samoans comes a blistering set by the Five themselves (MC, that is). They start with a totally freaked version of "Rambling Rose" that makes the Kick out the Jams version sound like Kiss Alive II. (And, for all you kitsch-hounds out there, at Blastitude that means "not as good.") Shit, though, you know what's weird, after "Rose" they go right into "Kick out the Jams" with the same "kick out the jams, motherfucker!" intro...what if this is the same concert that was recorded for the album, only this version was recorded by a shitty bootleg mic somewhere in the audience! No wait, never mind, there wasn't all that "see a sea of hands" stuff, so I'm just trippin'. As for the Five, just from listening to this I take back the mild doubts I expressed about them in the last issue. Yeah, the Five often sound like a heavy-handed boogie blues band, and their righteous full-freak pot politics have dated, but jeezuz, more so than heavy-handed they were just plain heavy. And I love the between song shit, with Rob Tyner calling "Brother Fred Smith" to action and Fred answering him back just like Bobby answered James Brown. (What was I saying somewhere else in this issue about how the music I like, no matter where its from or what it is, has gotta have at least a little bit of girl-group soul-rock buried in it somewhere?? Well here it's right on top, baby, like the maraschino atop the sundae.)
        OOPS! The tape cuts out on the Five right as they begin the immortal strains of their "Starship" jam. Something must've happened to the bootlegger. But, plenty more room on the disc, and next up is...Foghat! Live bootleg! They open with "Fool For The City." Could it get any better? I like Foghat. "Fool for the city...I'm a fool for the city...", and just listen to the ever-so-brief lead guitar hook right after the first chorus and right before the second verse. This is heavy metal pop done in the boogie blues style. Just like The Five, in fact -- except that the Five were a little more Pot Power psychedelic than Foghat, who seemed like more of a whiskey band, and actually used slap bass in more than one song. (Can you name the bassist?) Here's what Lonesome Dave Peverett sings/says at the pre-guitar solo tail end of the slap bass breakdown: "Alright! Get things moving...yeah..." The second slap bass breakdown is the shit, just lo-fi cartoon funk played by white dudes with biker moustaches. And I dig Peverett's voice, the way his high-end metal feel is saved by cartoon soul rock. These guys really don't sound British to me, I don't know what it is. Maybe it's their Winger-and-Warrant imagery: the second song is called "Wild Cherry" and goes "Cherry...wild wild cherry...yeah!!"
         Did you know that 3/4 of Foghat were founding members of Savoy Brown? Totally British, but they play such perfect American cartoon boogie metal. It's always odd to hear, in between songs, Peverett's calm speaking voice, sounding like a British gentleman, saying hello to his aunts and uncles in the audience, and telling the audience how much Foghat likes Lawrence Welk. He introduces "Slow Ride" by saying "Alright! Woo! Right. Gettin' nice and hot in here. This is a song off of Fool For The City, about, uh, doing it slowly. It! It! 'S'called, uh, 'Slow Ride'," and right into the immortal drum intro.
         What else can I tell you? Their first two albums were both called just Foghat. That is bold. Starting with the second, they had seven straight albums go at least gold. Their biggest seller was number six of the seven, 1977's Foghat Live, which moved 2 million copies. And dig how brazenly they steal "Train Kept A Rollin" by the Yardbirds & Johnny Burnette for "Honey Hush." Their contemporaries in Aerosmith did it too, but they used the original's lyrics and gave proper songwriting credit. Foghat doesn't! (Answer to 'who was bassist' question: Tony Stevens.)

BLACK EYES: Chimes In Black Water CD-R (AMERICAN TAPES)
It is kinda odd how Black Dice has evolved from being one of the last great hardcore bands into a free improv band. They started out like (the true 'next') Black Flag but lately it's been more Flies Inside The Sun. I don't know what YOU were expecting from this collaboration between 'hardcore' bands Black Dice and Wolf Eyes, but it sounds to me like a psychedelic rock band from 1967 using their instruments and effect boxes to improvise an LP or two of electronic noise. If the combined previous output of Wolf Eyes and Black Dice could be considered their Parable in Arable Land mixed with a little God Bless All Those Who Sail With, then Chimes In Black Water is their Coconut Hotel, na' mean? It's weird just how improvised it is. You can hear people talking in the background, just shooting the shit, and there are no songs or even beats anywhere in earshot. Long 12 minute tracks, more like Incus than Troubleman. This isn't punk and it isn't even No Wave, it's psychedelic free improv played on garage rock instruments. No different than the instrumental parts from a Dead C record -- but how good of a Dead C record? I'll say one thing, the cover art by John Olson is absolutely beautiful. (This CD-R is a 'rough mix' of the Black Eyes sessions, released by Olson/American Tapes in an edition of 50. An official double LP release of the sessions is forthcoming from Fusetron.)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Intersect 3 CD-R (PALE-DISC)
I never did hear the Improvised and Experimental Music Recorded In And Around Austin, TX LP that came out on Center of Ass Run, but this Japanese release seems to be a sort of unofficial follow-up (very unofficial, it's a CD-R release). Six artists appear on here, one of them being Rick Reed, who was on the Ass Run LP. Each one does a 10-12 minute long piece, and in fact, the pieces seem to be performed live in one night in front of the same rather sizable and appreciative audience. It almost sounds like a dignified theater, museum, or campus setting, and, with each track being the same rough length, their sequence has a visual quality, like a gallery showing of six large paintings or sculptures that are more or less the same size and composed with similar materials.
       As an aside, I think that the deeper people get into experimental improv type musics, it becomes a kind of music where its live performance becomes more like a finished painting or sculpture than a performance. This is what the sizable experimental community in Chicago is all about, which is why bands always come to Chicago and say shit like "Why doesn't Chicago fucking dance??!!" in between songs. They just don't realize that Chicago audiences aren't there to dance, they're there to listen to paintings, and besides, the bands saying it are usually playing some over-loud temper-tantrum shit that no one would want to dance to anywhere, let alone in the Passive Observation Capital of the World.
      But back to Texas. These are six sound sculptures and they're all pretty good. Squarely in the New Ominousness camp, of course, but the first track escapes it with a cascading piano-driven sound that points toward the glory days of Prog. It's still pretty quiet and austere, as is everything on here. If I had been at this show I would've been sitting down somewhere very comfortable, resting and closing my eyes. Doesn't it feel silly when there's a laptop or drone performance in a club and nobody on stage is doing anything physical or even noticeable and everyone in the house stands in one place facing the stage directly anyway? (The Pale-Disc label is run by musician Kuwayama Kiyoharu, whose own music is worth a listen, especially Lethe's Sleep Digest and another one where it's crazy string improvisations recorded by a huge Tokyo construction site where it's at night and all shut down and eerie.)

ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS: The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs CD (SMOG VEIL)
I always knew I was supposed to worship this band, and now that their extremely brief recording career has been issued on CD and 2LP by Smog Veil, I can actually get down to doing it. Really, this is some of the best heavy-ass soul-rock (that you could still call 'proto-punk') I've heard...ever. Now when I mention this band to people and they say, "Do you mean Rocket from the Crypt?" it makes me hate those fake-ass Fonzarellies even more.
        Let's see, highlights....well, the Tombs, like everything Laughner did, were sort of a cover band, and they start with an instrumental minute or two of the Stooges' "Raw Power." Apparently that was the theme for Crocus Behemoth to come steppin' out on stage. After that, the band goes into "So Cold," which is practically a cover of the Coop's "Eighteen," but it's so damn soul-baringly heavy that it makes Coop just feel like bubblegum. Crocus's vocals are devastating.
         But it's still nothing compared to Peter Laughner's tour de force "Ain't It Fun," which comes a few tracks later. Jeeezuzz. Laughner's vocal and lyrics are absolutely terrifying. So what if he sang "Me and the Devil Blues" the night he died at the age of 24, the fact that he wrote this howl from beyond at any time in his life is chilling. For example, "Ain't it fun when you get so high that you can't...come..." is a shocking line, because not only is it explicit sexuality, it's explicit asexuality, brought on by hedonism, leading to despair, and it conveys all of these things at once. And maybe it isn't sexual at all; maybe you get so high that you can't go to a social event, or make some other kind of appointment that you had planned on, because you can't bear to be so obviously on drugs around people you care about. Whatever the meaning you shade from it, Laughner's singing has got all the appropriate loneliness and loss and forgetfulness and everything. You can keep your children from rock and roll, but songs like this are better anti-drug PSA's than anything TV has ever given us, although usually by the time the subjects hear them (not to mention write them) it's too late. It was certainly too late for Laughner. (Later in the song, he asks the terrifyingly not-sarcastic question, "Ain't it fun when you know that you're gonna die young?")
        And speaking of hedonism, how about the way Laugh. taunts his self-gratifying countrymen: "Ain't it fun when you're takin' care of number one!" Then he changes it up with ("Ain't it fun when you j-j-j-j-just can't f-find your tongue/Just stuck it way too deep in somethin' that really stung") Baudelarian triple-entendre poetry done with a Cleveland drawl, and further sung as a pop culture reference (to Roger Daltrey). And speaking of explicit, how about, "Ain't it fun when you tell her that she's just a cunt," and in the very next line, right after the bitch storms out, he already misses her: "Ain't it fun when you've broken up everything you've ever done."

        Obviously this song alone is worth the price of admission, and on top of that you get a song that is probably even better, the incredible Tombs version of "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." It is definitely better than the Pere Ubu version from the Hearthan single, and I think the guitar of Gene O' "Cheetah Chrome" Connor is exactly what that version misses. The rave-up guitar section is absolutely as good as it got, and when I say "it" I mean rock music. I'm not kidding, I don't think there is any other rock this hot. No, I'm serious. And Thomas's vocals on the Ubu verzh were cool and all, like some drily weird new style of method-acting, but on here they're nothing less than a bratty chant to the gods (through tons of monster-movie reverb so they'll hear it better) coming from a big loft somewhere in a dead city. Then, at the end, as the incredible rave-up of "30 Seconds" tail off into the end, the band kicks into the heaviest version possible of "Satisfaction." It's frustrating but somehow fitting that it's only 19 seconds long. Remember when Anthrax kicked into a little bit of "Sweet Leaf" at the end of their cover of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"? That is now the second-heaviest cover-snippet-at-the-end-of-another-song of all time.

 

ROXY MUSIC: Manifesto LP (VIRGIN)
This is a great LP. Get one used while they're still two dollars. Don't worry, they probably will be for a while yet, because this album, though great, clearly isn't as great as For Your Pleasure and Roxy Music, or for that matter Siren and Stranded (but give me Manifesto and a 45 of "Love is the Drug" and you can have Siren and Stranded). Manifesto also has a surprisingly intense 80s producto-sheen that turns the less hardy listeners off -- by the side two opener "Ain't That So" the band sounds like Huey Lewis & the News! Thing is, this album came out in 1979: Roxy were such freaks that they were makin' fun of 80s pop-rock before it even started! And listen to Bryan Ferry absolutely being a goon over the schmaltzy News-worthy blues groove, crooning about "Dynamite! Such sweet surprise... in southern heat!" and "Peeling walls... of cheap hotels... Neon flare!" Hell, he starts it off with "Iīve been around/So far it seems/Too bad the blues/Blew my schemes"! And, long after all that, the cheesy-ass chorus still haunts like a mantra: Ferry singing "Ain't that so?" and then the background soul ladies singing it back. Jake Smith swears Ferry's asking "Ain't that soul?" and the girls are responding negatively: "Ain't that. So?" In fact, Jake can cite several examples throughout Ferry's oeuvre where the singer elides certain repeated chorus words so that their meaning is shaded or changes completely. (I'm hoping he'll pen a guest essay on this for a future issue.)

       Meanwhile, songs like "Still Falls the Rain" are basically good-old Roxy prog-rock...although it does have a break that sounds like Haircut One Hundred. Side one closer "Stronger Through The Years," a Ferry solo composition, does plod a bit, as if the energy of their early albums has almost completely waned. But, Ferry makes it up with the next song, the aforementioned "Ain't That So." And "Cry, Cry, Cry" is classic Ferry cheese pop, with him hawking his wares: "You ready for hot stuff? Be prepared!" over another friendly synthetic blues groove, a song that should be played in cruise ships, because even as old ladies will dance to it, Ferry keeps it real with buried Phil Dick/Pop Art imagery: "Youīre steppinī on holy ground/Hold it there!/Iīm fading out your hologram/A phoney toothpaste smile." And finally, album closer "Spin Me Round" is not only a night-club pop ballad as elegant as anything on Avalon (i.e. the most elegant night-club pop album of all time), but it also ends the album much like the title track ended For Your Pleasure, with a spacy repeated instrumental chord roundabout (though not as spacy as "Pleasure"'s -- this time more 80s).
          And so ends the review. On a scale of 1 to 10, with Roxy Music getting a 9 and For Your Pleasure a 10, Manifesto gets a very strong 7.5. (And basically, I'm interested in hearing any music ever made when it's even above, say, a 6.)

 

  
 

 

 

 

 

RECORD REVIEWS
by John Ruhter

El Guapo
"Super/System"
Dischord #128

Guitars, or at least a guitar, is cited as being played, at least at one point, but presumably more than that, by Rafael Cohen on El Guapoís "Super/System." You probably wouldnít notice unless you were looking for it, like I was. The times the famed rock instrument makes its hidden appearances on the record are few. Who cares? The only reason I do is that this is a Dischord record. Dischord -- a label which would not exist without the advent of the guitar. El Guapo may represent the new school for Dischord. Not that what they are doing as far as instrumentation, or lack thereof in this case, is anything new, especially in modern punk rock/hardcore circles. Recent popularity of The Faint and likeminded guitar-free bands is a testimony to this. Not only is "Super/System" a fresh approach for Dischord, it is also for the new crop of "new wave" underground bands. Yes, even The Faint (insert gasp here) could learn something from El Guapo. Not that El Guapo is necessarily a "new wave" band. They are reminiscent of "new wave" but they are reminiscent of a lot of things. This is one of those records that is hard to describe briefly. It is rather minimal in a sense. Not in a thin or lacking way but in more of a Joy Division way, with way less guitars of course. I also hear Unrest in the vocals at times. I think every track uses a drum machine but it is appropriate in that this isnít a drum machine record. The production quality is perfect. "Super/System" was recorded by Phil Manley, who managed to produce a high fidelity record that is not overly slick or showy. It seems that any more, underground records are either trash in terms of fidelity, or sound like a 311 record. No middle ground. Bad. I think the trio has a sense of humor but, traditional with Dischord, the outside listener who is not privy to "punk humor" probably wonít get it. Nothing new. Every record needs a little snob appeal I guess. Musically, this is the best record Iíve heard in a while. It's truly fresh and suggests a new direction for a genre of music where the bands involved tend to make each other's records over and over. The packaging of "Super/System" is kind of gross. Purple and orange with bad charcoal drawings. Not my cup of tea, but then this may be part of their sense of humor. Do you get it? You should -- on vinyl.

 

tu mí
".01"
Cut 006 (www.cut.fm)

Not quite sure how to pronounce their name which is taken from an opera by Marcel Duchamp. Tu mí is an Italian trio consisting of Andrea Gabriele, Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli. This is electronic music that is said to be improvised but sounds very structured to me. "Improvised" music that sounds as if it isnít improvised usually means one of two things. Either itís a.) a lie or b.) made by musicians who do what they do very well. I believe the latter is the case with tu mí. ".01" represents well crafted, modern improvised electronic music. It contains the usual glitches and pops. Donít expect anything groundbreaking here, but rather a genre with a slightly different slant, most importantly done honestly and done right. The trio has been together since 1998 and are self taught double bass, guitar and baritone saxophone musicians, but you wonít find any of that here. The sound sources used on ".01" are unidentifiable as they should be on any "experimental" electronic record. The album consists of six tracks totaling just over sixty-four minutes. I wouldnít say that ".01" is a difficult record to listen to, especially for this genre. Regardless, the sub-three minute ADD pop consumer should probably stick to what they are used to. For being an "improvised" record, ".01" is very steady and builds gradually on themes rather then concentrating on random phrases or bursts. ".01" is not a messy record at all but very organized. The shifts are subtle and the listen requires patience, though the listener does not go away un-rewarded. It reminds me of a softer, less percussive and subtly less consistent Pan Sonic. ".01" is beautifully recorded and the mastering by Cutís Jason Kahn is exquisite. If an improvised electronic album could ever be called "audiophile" then this would be it. Comes in a cardboard sleeve resembling a mini LP sleeve with minimal artwork and liner notes typical of all Cut releases. tu mí also curates an internet record label that has new musicians every month who contribute an MP3 and artwork to make up an albums worth of material for a compilation and all the downloads are free. Mayís "release" featured Black Dot, David Grubbs, Bhob Rainey and Plank among the thirteen tracks available. Their labelís site can be found at http://spazioinwind.iol.it/tu_m/menu.html.

 

Roger Smith
"Green Wood: Improvised Guitar Solos"
Emanem 4073 (2002)

Does the world need another "Improvised Guitar Solos" record? Even for the most dedicated underground improvisation record collector, seeking out and acquiring all, or even half of all, improvised solo guitar recordings would be a daunting and probably impossible task. Not to mention expensive. This was kind of my mindset going into my first listen of "Green Wood" and this stuff is my cup of tea. I love improvised music, but sometimes it feels like the dead horse has been kicked one too many times. So what does Roger Smith have to offer? "Green Wood" consists of twelve tracks of solo Spanish guitar strummed and picked by Smithís bare fingers and is a seventy-six minute presentation. All of the recordings were done in Smithís kitchen straight to a DAT recorder. I could draw the usual comparisons to make a description such as Derek Bailey and John Fahey. Both references can be heard, of course, but that doesnít do justice to what Smith is doing here, displaying an attitude here that is far less linear then either Bailey or Fahey. Smith plays muted phrases mixed with mild harmonics then shifts seamlessly to picked melodic phrases that almost resemble something rehearsed. Who knows? Maybe they were, but that would make the title of this record a lie. Who cares. Smith goes on to add a more dry, analytical style with a sort of David Grubbs approach from perhaps 94í or 95í. Really, in the seventy-six minutes, Smith covers a large spectrum of styles and approaches and presents each honestly. This record comes off very gentle to me. Though noisy at times, it is a quiet recording, thus balancing the scales. He reminds me of Derek Bailey and his solo recordings in this sense. Noisy perhaps, but not confrontational. That said, "Green Wood" does make for a good background album to have on but as with any well done improvised recording, giving it your undivided attention is best. Given the instrument used, I would have preferred to have heard these recordings done in the analog domain, or at least have had some tubed pre-amps used. All digital recordings have a tendency to rob the warmness that acoustic instruments create. I would also prefer to hear this recording on vinyl, but then thatís true of all recordings I hear. According to the liner notes written by Emanemís Martin Davidson, the material that makes up "Green Wood" was selected from several hours of music recorded over several nights. I would like to hear the stuff that didnít make it on "Green Wood" as Iím sure it would lend itself to the diversity of that that was selected. Emanem has a reputation of releasing and supporting honest improvised music as is the case with 4073.

 

The Breeders
"Title TK"
4AD/Elektra (2002)


Hearing Kim Deal sing the first line "round up holler girl" from the first track "Little Fury" on TITLE TK immediately made me feel like I was 17 again. Not that TITLE TK is a nostalgic record, re-hashing past commercial success in the hopes of further success. Quite the opposite. Other then Kim and her twin sister Kelley, none of the other Breeders are from the previous line up that recorded LAST SPLASH or POD. Itís still The Breeders though because The Breeders was always Kim Deal. TITLE TK is full of the familiar minimal yet clever pop sense that Kim has come to be known for. Fuck that. She just writes good songs and if youíve ever liked any of her projects previous, whether it be The Breeders, The Amps or Pixies, youíll appreciate TITLE TK. It outdos LAST SPLASH and is a close second to POD. TITLE TK shows Kim at perhaps her most intimate, with lyrics that are strangely personal, but the exact point is murky at best. She still leaves room for pop songs that may not have a point at all, but they sure beg to be hummed along to. All in all, I will probably give TITLE TK pop record of the year, not that anyone cares. Me included. TK was recorded by Steve Albini. Anyone familiar with him, and who isnít these days, will recognize his thumbprint right from the beginning. TK also marks Kimís first project implementing her "Recorded All Wave" process of making records. This just entails her recording her music not using any tuning or harmonic correction and all recording is done in the analog domain. Really, itís a shame that this has become the exception instead of the rule. Regardless, itís good to see people making honest recordings. I feel like Iím not doing this record justice, like I should be saying more. Itís the type of thing that you just want to encourage others to listen to because it is its own best explanation. So, I dig TITLE TK and even if you were ever a Pixies fan, and if you are reading this, Iím going to bet that you were, you should get this record.

 

Life Without Buildings
"Any Other City"
Tugboat/DC/Baltimore DCB003 (2001)


I go through phasesÖor better yet, peaks and valleys...when it comes to all things indie rock. It seems that since my interest in the genre was sparked 15 years ago, Iíll hear something good that will lead me to check out other like minded projects. Iíll pursue different recordings and all will be good until what seems to be the inevitable happens. It seems that indie rock as a whole has a way of turning on itself and self destructing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that indie rock, like top 40, is typically filled with clones that bastardize any music that was at one time fresh and progressive. Or maybe I simply get burned out on listening to the same "kind" of music over and over. Perhaps there is truth in both statements but it seems after indie rock has been diluted too much, I have to walk away and wait for itself to build itself back up before I give it anymore attention. Actually, since the deconstruction process happened the first time for me, Iíve never really been fully invested in the genre. Perhaps I felt cheated and betrayed. So, having not really consistently listened to anything labeled indie rock for a while, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend introduced me to a band from Glasgow called Life Without Buildings. Not knowing what to expect, he put the CD in the player. I was intrigued. By the end of the first track "PS Exclusive" the band had met and surpassed the minimal expectations I had placed on them. My friend agreed to let me borrow the CD so later that day, I listened to the whole album from start to finish. CITY is the type of record that will get your attention but it doesnít force feed anything. It's rather seducing that way. In less romantic terms, it works along the same lines as a narcotic, no pun intended. Every time I listen to this record I like it more and just when I think I have had enough, I listen to it again. I had the same reaction upon hearing Frank Blackís TEENAGER OF THE YEAR eight years ago. LWOB is made up of the traditional, conventional rock instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums. Sue Tompkins provides the vocals that strangely accompany the music very well and are the trademark of the band that sets them apart. I say Ďstrangelyí because the way she sings really shouldnít accompany anything very well. She has this way of singing that sounds like she is reading the lyrics that she scribbled in a notebook for the first time at band practice having only heard the music she is singing to a couple of times. It fits so well though. For some reason, her voice reminds me of Bjork. The music is guitar driven but not obnoxious. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Velvet Undergroundís more subtle, melodic stuff. Once you can follow what little pattern there is to Tompkins' lyrics, you will be singing along. The production quality is typical of rock recordings these days. A little too glossy, a little too solid state. I have yet to hear CITY on vinyl, which is available. Usually vinyl softens up otherwise hard recordings. So I will continue to listen to LWOB until the inevitable twenty bands come along and make the same record.

 

Derek Bailey
"Ballads"
Tzadik 7607 (2002)

Iím a huge fan of Derek Bailey. I pick up records of his whenever I get a chance, not that there is any shortage in his incredibly prolific discography. Even if I was was just a passive Bailey fan, I think that I would still have gotten my hands on "Ballads" out of sheer curiosity as it is a covers record. The man that has come to be known as the "godfather of modern guitar improvisation" doing a covers record? Bailey wrote a book called "Improvisation" that tells the reader everything they ever wanted to know, and a lot of stuff they never wanted to know, about the history and playing of improvised music. He has made hundreds of recordings playing improvised guitar and has developed a style all his own that any experimental music connoisseur can identify within seconds. Over the four decades that his material has been released, his style has strayed very little. There is an audible progression but it has more to do with technology and how and who he chooses to improvise with vs. really playing differently. The fascinating thing about him is that despite the minimal changes in what he plays, you always want moreÖor at least I do. All that said, to have him release a covers album is, to say the least, a little odd. "Ballads" is made up of jazz standards. None of the titles rang a bell with me and even if they did, Iím going to make the assumption that I wouldnít be hearing huge similarities between the original and Derekís version. Though these are covers, this is still Derek Bailey. The fact that it is him playing stands out more then what he is playing and that is what makes this record so great. He does stray more from his usual muted, harmonic volume pedal style on "Ballads" than I have ever heard. There are hints of structure and melody that I am assuming is the chorus of the various songs that he is playing. I find listening to much of Derek Baileyís music very soothing and reassuring in a sense because Iím listening to "free" music in the truest sense of the word. That is comforting to me. I get that same sensation from listening to "Ballads" and then some, which is almost a contradiction due to the fact that playing covers is probably the furthest thing from so-called "free" music. This is one more chapter in the genius of Derek Bailey, in that he is able to apply the whole concept of what he is trying to get away from back to what he is trying to get away from. Does that make sense? "Ballads" is beautifully recorded and comes in ironic gray and pink packaging. Liner notes gratuitously written by Marc Ribot, which is also ironic as he released his "Saints" record last year that was the same concept as "Ballads." The beauty of "Ballads" is that I would feel confident and justified recommending to a first time Bailey listener as well as a Bailey fan, but then a Derek Bailey fan probably already has it.

 

The Scientific Method
"Noise Single Series #2" CD-R
Mekaneck Records 002

The Scientific Method are back with their second installment in their Noise Single Series. NSS #2 follows in the footsteps of #1, though instead of two tracks, there are four with the longest track being nearly fourteen minutes long. The first two tracks, "A Letter from William" and "Stealing Eric Claptonís Corpse from the Morgue After Breaking Out of Jail for Murdering Him," both have the thumbprint that The Scientific Method established on NSS #1. Minimal sources repeating and overlapping with minor and subtle shifts. Nothing entirely new but done very well and tastefully. I could be wrong but it sounds like a sampler is the tool of choice for a lot of whatís going on. There is also the token, broken, static radio or TV transmission that shows up towards the end of the 1st track overlapping the clicks and ticks that remain consistent throughout. "Stealing Eric Claptonís CorpseÖ" continues the same trend though it's somewhat thicker in comparison as more sources are employed. It sounds as if video games were sourced for at least one of the samples along with a crying baby that is not the most settling sound. If The Scientific Method were a boy band, and maybe they are, the third track, "The Ringing in my Ear Sounds Like Your Shitty Fucking Voice" would be their first single. This is the first track to somewhat step away from their other pieces, though structure-wise it remains true to the other tracks. It still consists of overlapping samples that slowly evolve and shift though. On this track, all the sounds reside in the same general frequency range -- mainly the upper midrange -- giving it a very cohesive feeling. This is in contrast to their other pieces that consist of various sounds that donít necessarily have a lot in common but still hold up on their own which I suppose is the appeal. It's interesting to hear them find a slightly new language. The final track is only one minute and eight seconds long, and what sounds like a heavily distorted, near static drum machine loop of course shifts to something slightly different in the last seconds of the song. NSS #2 comes in well done packaging that is silk screened. Exceptional, considering I paid $2 for a new copy at a record store in Lincoln, NE. My copy happened to be printed on the inside cardboard from a Pabst Blue Ribbon case. I recently spoke on the phone to Jeff, who is a member of The Scientific Method, who notified me that they have a ton of material recorded for future releases. It should be interesting to see what else they can produce. In my mind I think of "Noise Single Series #2" the same way I did after hearing and forming an opinion of Brainiacís "Hissing Prigs in the Static Couture." It is a great record but I remember hoping that they wouldnít fall into the rut of making the same record over and over. Plenty of bands do this, experimental or not. I reserve hope that the musicians I have faith in will go up and above that and find new, intelligent ways to get their point across without becoming complacent. Brainiac did this brilliantly with their follow up EP and final recording "Electro Shock for President." Will "Noise Single Series #3" do the same?

 

 

BLASTITUDE #13
 
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