Blastitude Number Three

ISSUE #3      DECEMBER, 3000
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Well, Zero Street got in the Black Dice 10-inch that I said I was gonna order last ish. It's hilarious, there's about a foot of snow on the ground right now in Lincoln, and on the streets where we have to drive there's still about FIVE inches and it's just totally SHITTY outside, but we were still out running errands just an hour ago, and I had my wife drop me off at the record store so I could run in and buy this. As I got out of the car, she made it clear that I was to be waiting for her after driving me around the block, giving me barely sixty seconds to complete the transaction. We were anxious to get home and out of the cold, so I behaved and somehow set a personal record by walking outside, parcel in hand, just as she was rounding the corner of 14th & O. (I'll admit that a stray hand did flip through the new arrivals bin, but it was really more of a reflex action, more due to the proximity of the bin to the cash register than anything else.)
          We get home and I put it on and out comes this hilarious squealing, lurching, stumbling noise pattern that DEFINITELY isn't a song, it's an action, or an event, or a thing, but not a song at all, and my wife goes "My God!" her face turning up in near horror. "Why don't you get a record that's finished next time?" she asks, which is actually kind of an original putdown of this sort of thing. I just stared back and played air guitar to the shit, which is pretty fun, you should try it some time. Then the vocals by "Eric" started coming in, and they're fantastic - death metal vocals that aren't even trying to form words and phrases. He's just standing there with the mic making scary monster noises that actually are kinda scary. My wife has always dug the Melvins, but her look still increased in horror somewhat when she realized that 'that sound' was the lead singer singing. "How much did you spend on this?" was her next question. I said "nine bucks" and she actually seemed to think that was a pretty good deal.
         I think so too, even if Side One isn't even over yet. I mean, it's nice just to hold and look at, coming as it does in a cool pink-and-white cover, with an included mondo artsy 10-page full-color-covered booklet featuring abstract doodlings that are actually Black Dice scores, many psychedelic collages, and even a thanks list. Oops, side one just got done and even though it looks like it's broken up into a bunch of short tracks (and I just saw on the Wherehouse website that the CD version also begins with 6-7 consecutive 30 second tracks), don't let it fool ya; at least it sounds to me like one continuous performance of that one thing/event/action-that-definitely-isn't-a-song that I described above. Immediate reflections: about two minutes into the side, a big low-end hum came in underneath the boxing/spitting/lurching/belching that made me think for a second that I needed to re-ground my turntable, and even after I realized it was just the band making the sound and not my equipment it was still pretty easy to imagine Black Dice, all four of 'em and their instruments, inside my stereo trying to beat their way out, fucking up the circuitry and wiring by randomly jamming their guitar necks into circuit boards while the drummer smashed his floor tom against the inside walls.
         Side Two is probably even better, it actually has what sound like three separate 'movements,' and the first and third are actually 'songs' this time, not unlike the 30-second death-belches on the 7-inch released by Vermin Scum (reviewed last ish). Even more out there, though -- the last track is definitely a song, but the mixing and recording of it are bizarre. (Eric can be heard screaming away, lyrics even, but it sounds like he isn't even in the room, or maybe not even in the house, and is in fact probably being phoned in from the bottom of some Arctic ocean. If you're familiar with the last five minutes or so of Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room," that's actually what his voice sounds like, decayed and ghostly, like sound coming not from inside a room but from behind the funhouse mirror on its wall. The second might be a song too in some kind of damaged This Heat sense -- the drums repeat a crude fill while a few sharp broken-amp electronic tones take near-serialist turns ringing against each other. Who knows, if This Heat had been ugly Americans, or if Side Two of The Operation of the Sonne would've been about 10 minutes longer, we might've already heard something like this, but things being as they are I think Black Dice are tunneling deeper into a mine that is 99.9% their very own. Buy this record for snapshots from the trip.


Iím finally jumping on the Fred Neil bandwagon, and though itís bound to be a rocky ride with a driver as obtuse and anti-commercial as Mr. Neil, I canít say I regret doing it. This double-disc compiles three of the four albums he released, along with six unreleased tracks. Iíve barely even played those yet Ďcause Iím still fathoming the deep, deep first disc, which is alone worth the price of admission. What Iím really getting stuck on is the last half of Disc One, which is Fredís second full-length LP, Sessions.
          Released in 1967, Sessions was considered a commercially unadvisable followup to his already slow-selling Fred Neil LP, as it was a barely-edited document of a late-night party in some L.A. studio, with songs given loose and totally live arrangments, with much of the obscure party-talk between the songs included. Of course, commercially unadvisable moves have almost NEVER equalled bad music, and indeed these Sessions are very headyÖfolk tunes that quickly turn into extrapolative boogie-shuffles that quickly turn into raga-shuffles as a total of five acoustic guitarsÖand a stand-up bass!Öintertwine in and out of each otherís rhythm and melody patterns, mercifully buoyed only by the lovely late-night studio reverb instead of the Ďtightí groove of some hack studio drummerÖFred mumbles, shouts, and sings his way through loose verses and choruses, which come and go kind of randomly within the bubbling hillbilly raga-scapes the stoned gang sets up with glee. Stoned? Well, in between the last two zoned-out tracks, "Looks Like Rain" and "Roll on Rosie" there is this exchange: "[much laughter]  Fred: Wee!  Voice: [breath sucking in, then slight coughing] Thatís such a pleasure, manÖ  Fred: Oh! Fly united!  2nd Voice: Why stop now?  Fred: Mm! I donít know! Is everything alright? Can we get into somethiní?ÖYouíre somethiní else, manÖyou donít drink, I donít think, either, do ya? Do ya drink? Oh, now ya spoiled yer image, man!"  (Ironically, here Neil is spoiling his own image as a pained incommunicative hermit, Ďcause he's having a good time and sounds downright effusive.)

           Another highlight is "Look Over Yonder," an impossibly slow ballad with Fred groaning and moaning out some extremely deep notes that speak of some serious melancholy. Itís also notable how the album begins with fairly tight song readings but by the end has almost completely evolved into free music, probably in direct proportion to the rounds the alluded-to joint was making. If the first couple tracks are, if not perfunctory, maybe a little stiff, by the time the last track "Roll on Rosie" has come to its feverishly swaggering/chanting/pulsating finish, Fred and the boys are definitely 'somewhere else.'

            The album called Fred Neil, more traditionally thought of as a masterpiece, makes up the first ten tracks of Disc One. It's definitely good too, with reverbed-out tremelo guitar immediately highlighting the opener, "The Dolphins." This is Fredís most legendary tune, and as such, maybe a slight disappointment. Iíve listened to it five or six times and I still canít remember how it goes. Then again, itís hard to remember how any of these tunes really go, as Fred is such a laid-back shadowy song-presenter. (In the words of John "Loviní Spoonful" Sebastian: "Fred was a concealer.")
            I prefer the sloooww country-Fred Neil-blues way the melody unwinds on "Ba-De-Da," or the sexy sad way he asks "Didnít we shake, sugaree?"during "Iíve Got a Secret," or "Faretheewell (Fredís Tune)," a hushed, haunting ballad. And, if you didnít know, Fred Neil wrote "Everybodyís Talkiní," the Harry Nilsson hit from Midnight Cowboy, and his original version is on here. I know Iím probably not supposed to, but I think I actually prefer the Harry Nilsson version, a punchy pop gem that managed to be both sad and soaring at the same time. Hearing it done by Neil is fine for giving credit where it's due, but his langurous/dolorous delivery is just not what Iím used to. (There is a cool live version of it on Disc Two originally appeared on the odds-and-sods album The Other Side of This Life, and has surprising, extended Coltrane-McGuinn-ist accompaniment by one Monte Dunn.) After these and a few other laid-back sad mystic cowboy folk-going-on-raga songs, Fred Neil ends by breaking out and going all the way into raga with a pretty glorious 8-minute jam called "Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga." This is late 60s free music of the highest order Ė itís no coincidence that Neil was backed for a time by a band that became The Seventh Sons, who recorded for ESP-Disk.

         This is where I have a gripe with Richie Unterbergerís liner notes, or maybe, more accurately, his aesthetic. Heís a good factual writer and offers several excellent descriptions, like this: "Itís also fair to say that no singers of any kind, from any era, caressed the bottom end of the vocal register as deftly as Neil did; his lo-o-o-w phrases seemed to pluck blue notes from the very bottom of his shoes, so far down did he reach into his guts and soul." Thatís great, and Iíve heard good things about Unterberger's book Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll, but Iíve never read it, and now I donít think Iím going to because he obviously has no affinity for free music, or even rock music if its tarnished by the slightest hint of an extrapolation that might go on longer than the shortest verse, chorus, or bridge. He probably hates late-period John Coltrane. And while Iím sure he loves the Byrds, heís probably still breathing a sigh of relief that the guitar solo in "Eight Miles High" wasnít five notes longer, which would have qualified it as "lengthy" and "rambling," which is how he describes "Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga." In fact, he calls it "nearly interminable" and adds that it "would nonetheless foreshadow the more experimental tone of [Sessions]," which is a putdown because Unterberger doesnít seem to like Sessions at all, filling a couple paragraphs with prose like this: "'Fools Are A Long Time Cominí, while not as lethargic as 'Look Over Yonder', might well have benefited from a more electric production and a more structured approach, and disintegrates into doodling ragas; indeed, a more focused take of the song does exist." Well shoot, Rich, you can keep on collectiní alternate takes in your search for a focused Fred Neil, but I don't think focus was ever really part of Fred Neilís life nor his langurous/dolorous/free-form folk art. And besides, ragas are focused in their own way, and I hear that focus in Fred Neil music. By the end of "Roll on Rosie," these guys are of one and only one late-night altered state of mind. In fact, sometimes during Fred Neil recordings I hear all the tones from American folk and soul musics given an extended zen forum to intermix and color each other that even the Grateful Dead didnít quite get toÖbut that's just me. And, hey, sorry to keep ya anyway, Mr. Unterberger, putcher headphones on and go back to yer beanbag...





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