Sep 28, 2010

Les Rallizes Dénudés. Tachikawa. December 17, 1976.

2 Blurts

Despite LRD's explosive aural and visual assault on their audiences, Takashi Mizutani was never a flashy singer, usually sounding instead like a lost spirit on the verge of revelation, wandering in an existential forest of his own making. This must have been a happier night, as White Waking is positively poppish, and even the trademark, brain-scouring levels of white noise are uplifting. There's still plenty of menace, like the way the bass stalks Mizutani throughout Flames of Ice, but even there the crackling guitar lead eventually outstrips it, swelling with light and enveloping the once dark forest.

I've written before about the nihilism of LRD's music, but my point is that it's a benevolent indifference. They would never do anything so gauche as to rock you like a hurricane. Similies are for chickenshits. They are a hurricane, but not metaphorically, either. The kind that sees you leaving with a mic stand blown through your cranium (OK, that may not be benevolent. But you buys your ticket, you takes your chances). Thy're as close as you can get to safely watching elemental catastrophe as performance art.

Like the vast majority of the Rallizes' output, this is of bootleg quality (although they may be the only band for whom that works in their favor), but whoever recorded it must have been sitting in the auditorium's sweet spot. The separation is great, and you can tell the instruments apart for once. It's almost like listening to them in widescreen. The guitar comes through really well, and you can actually hear the notes Mizutani's picking out (I particularly like the spirited run towards the end of Angel). And whoever was playing bass for them that night really knew how to lay that shit down, which is a whole new dimension for them.

The vertiginous, see-sawing Heat Wave—powered by a surprisingly confident, stomping bass line and some great rock drumming—finds Mizutani leading them all to fantastic new heights, thundering along like a herd of naked biker hippies, straight into the sun. It's one of his all-time best moments—the sort of thing that raises the hair on the back of your neck and makes your heart catch in your throat. You know without a doubt that this was one of those songs that took over a crowd, instantly transforming them into a solid, beastly, interconnected mass of head-banging, transcendent abandon. It'll make your soul explode.

Dream finishes things off by melting back into a tense, worrisome, brittle space. A dream askew with shadows and twigs. The forest closes back in, and the white light streamers slither and shake back into the darkness. It's an inversion of where they started with White Waking and the perfect end to the night.


Sep 25, 2010

The Field Mice. Sensitive.

3 Blurts

Sarah 018
Released: February 27, 1989
01: Sensitive
02: When Morning Comes To Town


Sep 24, 2010

Au Pairs. Playing With a Different Sex.

0 Blurts

A bit of queer feminist reggae-disco punk-funk for your weekend. Have The Gossip covered We’re So Cool, yet? They should.

Like Gang of Four, The Au Pairs made authoritative, tight, and imminently danceable songs that rocked their politics just as hard as their grooves. Lesley Woods sang with a smoky, snarky, blues voice and played a twitchy guitar that she used to scratch up the hollows of the throbbing, syncopated punk rhythms. They wanted to take over the world, or at least the pop charts, but disappeared after two albums.

They aimed big while revolutionizing the small. Unlike a lot of political-with-a-capital-p bands, their politics were personal, honest, funny, awkward and unflinching. They weren’t telling anybody what to think, or even what they thought. They were just dramatizing situations and roles, and left it up to their listeners to make the connections to larger contexts. Most of their lyrics address power hierarchies, whether between romantic couples, governments and people, or even within bands. The mixed genders of the group and their use of Jamaican dub aesthetics were both ways to bypass and test the flexibility of those levels of authority. Simultaneously playing with and ignoring sex and gender (sort of like The Raincoats), they mixed it up with everyday stories of the negotiating that goes on in all types of relationships.

Come Again (banned by the BBC) looks at the way even the most private of spaces and moments are fraught with competing demands and sympathies. There’s nothing more transcendently fun than an orgasm, but here (even progressive) women have to be aware of the pressures on them to perform for their partners—it’s only polite—and sometimes fake it; even when they want it, even if they know their partner is trying, especially when they don’t and he isn’t. And what about feeling like you have to because you’re a new woman who changed the rules, and has sex on your own terms—because those women always have orgasms, now, right? Just thinking about it can throw you off your game, even when things had been going well. An allmusic review patronizingly called their songs “hectoring”, but Come Again rocks like crazy and ends with this hilarious and all too recognizable chorus:

Is your finger aching? I can feel you hesitating.
Is your finger aching!?!
Yes, thank you, I got one. Yes, it was nice.
Yes, we should go to sleep now. Yes, yes it was fine—
We must, we must do it again sometime. We must—
Yes, but I'm tired. Cum again? Wot?
Shit, I forgot to put my cap in!

The album came out at a time when the British government was busy ignoring rising levels of Fascist youth violence directed at Asian and Pakistani communities, gay clubs, feminist spaces and performers—anything not white and right wing. At the same time, the government was torturing female IRA prisoners (many falsely accused) while maintaining a public face of innocence. In Armagh, Lesley calls out the way torture and rape are used as tools of governments and patriarchies, both of whom hide behind professions of belonging to a higher order that couldn’t possibly be guilty of those things. We don’t torture / We’re a civilized nation / We’re avoiding any confrontation, Lesley mockingly chants throughout the song.

I wish she were still around today. In just under thirty years, “We don’t torture, we’re a civilized nation” has mutated from denial to excuse to justification. “We’re civilized people, and civilized people don’t torture, therefore all that stuff you’ve seen and heard about that looks like torture isn’t.” It’s become a hallmark of right wing discourse to argue in bad faith and to claim that the horrible thing being done isn’t really happening, and even if it is, they’re just doing it to protect you. Witness the disingenuous claims that anti-choicers don’t hate women or want to punish their sexuality. Why, no! They love women so much, they’re taking away their rights and choices so they don’t make any of those stupid decisions women (especially poor women) are likely to make when there isn’t a man around to tell them what they really want. Right now, in the US, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is trying to make the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal Medicaid funding for abortions services) permanent law. As it stands, it’s a budget item that gets voted on each year (which is bad enough, and has been going on for 34 years), but making it permanent law would have the effect of making abortion coverage illegal for low income women on Medicaid, federal employees, and military women. It would also effectively end abortion coverage in private employer policies, and endanger life-saving emergency abortions at state and local public hospitals. If you live in the US, visit this link to The Center for Reproductive Rights, where you can write to your Congressional representative and tell them to oppose this act.


Sep 22, 2010

Outer Limits Recordings. Foxy Baby.

0 Blurts

As my girlfriend is fond of saying about a certain genre of my music collection, “this sounds like something you’d listen to”. And it is. Originally released during the microsecond the Outer Limits Recordings website was operational (so presumably the work of Sam Meringue. See also: Wingdings), Foxy Baby has been reissued on lovely marbled pink vinyl by Not Not Fun. It’s officially described as telling "the strange, fragmented story of a young weirdo artist who has an encounter with an exotic otherworldly woman (the titular Ms. Foxy Baby), becomes obsessed, loses her into the cosmic blur of the city, then slips backstage at one of her shows to find her, where they mysteriously share a final cigarette while staring out across the metropolis’ skyline, then ascend into a holy void of alien lights”, but unless that story line is inscribed somewhere in the wax itself, I defy you to figure it out from listening to the album.

It’s always intriguing how much this stuff evokes the 80’s without ever sounding like any specific part of it. It’s synth-pop by way of Ariel Pink and James Ferraro; a tumultuous mulch of new-wave sounds, answering-machine beat-boxing, trippy FX, and the speed of submerged highways specially built for talking Camaros. A Xeroxed copy of a memory. It’s the music of apocalyptic sci-fi movies that only appeared on late night Canadian TV channels, flavored by the scaly rust of industrial decay under neon light. Fitness video grooves and phazer fire commingle and jumble while squeezing through wormholes into desert supermodel dimensions. I can never tell if anyone is actually making these sounds or if they’ve just been found and subjected to some mysterious process that involves dubbing them through millions of generations of cassettes dug out of the back seats of abandoned cars.

Foxy Baby

Buy it from Not Not Fun

Sep 21, 2010

The Housemartins. Glastonbury 1986.

0 Blurts

A little companion piece to yesterday’s demos. Here’s the Housemartins opening the main stage on the last day of the 1986 Glastonbury Festival. That year also came with The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Pogues, Madness, The Brilliant Corners, Nightingales, The June Brides, Robyn Hitchcock, The Go-Betweens, and Half Man Half Biscuit, among others. If only time travel were possible.


Sep 20, 2010

The Housemartins. Themes For The Well-Dressed Man. Demos.

2 Blurts

A very early demo tape from everyone’s favourite purposefully dorky, sincerely sarcastic, Christian Marxists. Also includes some tracks from a BBC session.

1. All Men Are The Same
2. When Will I Be Released
3. Skatsburg
4. Swansea
5. Singapore
6. It's History
7. Time Spent Thinking
8. The Day I Called It A Day
9. Taxi to Singapore
10. Caravan Of Love (live)
11. He Ain't Heavy (live)
12. Heaven Help Us All (live)


Sep 10, 2010

Elf Power. Treasures From the Trash Heap.

0 Blurts

I quite often describe bands as being the equivalent of some hypothetical cross-breeding of their influences. It’s rarely true and can unfairly diminish the singularly unique elements they’ve created. So without discounting the fact that Elf Power really are something wholly more and better than the sum of their antecedents, I think it’s fairly possible to draw an accurate, if inverted, phylogenetic map of their sound.

Really, it’s only because of how secure they are in their own identity that they can be so successful when revisiting the songs of their heroes. It’s why Nothing’s Going to Happen1 is one of their best albums, and possibly the best representation of what they do, despite being made up entirely of covers. The Flaming Lips, Brian Eno, R.E.M., T. Rex, Wire, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain, Roky Erickson, Robyn Hitchcock, The Buzzcocks, The Byrds, Hüsker Dü, and The Misfits all find some expression in Elf Power’s perfectly balanced mixture. Maybe it’s because their own songs—filtered and soaked in so many different elements—can function like a simultaneous mixtape that it’s so easy to like the band. They’re clueing you in to where they’ve come from and what they’ve loved along the way like your older sister sending you back all the cool bands she discovered in college.

This album was only available at their Back to the Web tour, and collects pretty much everything they’d done that never made it onto an album, or was only available as part of some other compilation you didn’t have. As an obsessive collector, I have to commend and thank them for really doing this type of album right. I want it all, and they’ve put it on here. Demos, more covers, a few live tracks, a remix, and a number of songs that just never saw the light of day. And they’re all really, really good. Historical Ant Wars rules. Back to the Web was a bit of a return to their old sound after a few albums that had found them stepping away from their early dive-bombing buzz, but Treasures From the Trash Heap is an even better encapsulation of the early days (although it covers every period). Like R.E.M.’s similar Dead Letter Office, it’s like getting to rummage around in your favorite band’s junk drawer. Without the pressure to create a coherent album, everything just reverts to being its own weird type of fun.

1. Temporary Arm (country version)
2. Face in the Sand (demo)
3. Feel a Whole Lot Better (Byrds cover)
4. Dandy in the Underworld (T.Rex cover)
5. Another Face (demo)
6. Hole in My Shoe (demo)
7. All the Same
8. Rise High Giant Fly
9. Historical Ant Wars
10. Empty Pictures (demo)
11. Princess Knows (Olivia Tremor Control cover)
12. Invisible Men (demo)
13. Dark Circles
14. Underneath the Bunker (R.E.M. cover)
15. Arrow Flies Close (live at Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)
16. Blackbirds
17. Invisible Men (techno version)
18. Run Through the Forest
19. I Know I
20. Spiders
21. It's Not Cold
22. Reuters (Wire cover, live at Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)
23. Honey (Spacemen 3 cover, live at the Landfill, Athens, GA)
24. The Slider (T.Rex cover)

1. Actually, A Dream In Sound and Creatures are the pinnacle of their work, but Nothing’s Going To Happen seems to hit right in the middle of what they’re usually aiming for.


Sep 1, 2010

Anorak Girl. Plastic Fantastic.

0 Blurts

If it weren’t for the references to the Spice Girls and Tamagotchi, and the fact that they claimed to be a Helen Love cover band, you could easily believe that this long lost bit of casio-powered pop had danced its way out of the band’s bedroom back when twee was going all electro. Even the name is an obvious nod to the scene’s choice of outerwear.

As it is, they showed up out of nowhere in 1996, released two singles and promptly disappeared. No one’s entirely sure who was in the band (There’s some speculation it involved Helen Love members in an even goofier mood, or a spoof perpetrated by the Reading UK band Cuckooland. Another bio claims they were from the Isle of Wight, so who knows). Whoever they were, they left some adorably twee disco tunes full of chirpy, sparkling keyboards, punk guitar, and heavenly vocals.

To give you some idea of how cartoonishly fun they were, I’ve half convinced myself that Andrew WK stole the thrashing keyboard/ guitar intro and rousing horn section from the chorus of Cybersex.

Plastic Fantastic