J. Spaceman as Lee Harvey Oswald ironizing John Lennon. I know, I know, but it works!
Friday, September 30, 2011
"Leave me in the autumn when darkness comes too soon and snow is on the way, but you'll be far, so far away, I'll think of you every day."
While fellow-Edinburgh natives Josef K are usually the first band mentioned when it comes to discussing the Scottish Post-Punk scene of the late-seventies and early-eighties, an argument can be made that Scars' all-too-brief journey from the art-punk abrasiveness of their early singles to the more textured and melodic (though still spiky) brand of Post-Punk found on their debut and swan-song, Author! Author!, represents a legacy just as compelling if not more so than their more commonly name-dropped counterparts. In fact, Josef K. lead singer Paul Haig has admitted that TV Art, an early version of his band, "were inspired by Scars." From their inception, Scars' unique sound was in evidence. Equal parts Glam attitude, Punk aggression, danceable rhythm, and arty ambition, early songs such as "Horrorshow," while clearly indebted to the U.K. Punk scene of the late-seventies, seemed eager to explore a sound marrying a more moody, pop-art-informed intellectual approach to Punk's raw emotional power. During their first three years together, Scars spent most of their time touring relentlessly (their gritty live performances are now legendary) and issuing occasional singles, which caught the attention of John Peel, who invited the band to record two sessions (1980, 1981) for his BBC radio show. By 1981, when Scars finally got around to focusing more on recording, their sound had evolved significantly, and what they delivered on their lone LP, though generally little-known, easily stands with the best of the original Post-Punk movement.
Taking the abrasive guitar-based textures and moody lyrics that previously defined their sound and seamlessly transplanting them into a more straightforwardly pop context yields stunning results on this particular song, and leaves one wondering how Scars failed to achieve the kind of success a band such as Echo & The Bunnymen enjoyed. On the album's other standout track, "Leave Me in the Autumn," the atmosphere is much darker, and King's slightly frantic vocal performance beautifully conveys the sense of painful isolation that runs thematically through the song's lyrics. However, the star on this song is Mackie's bass-work, which initiates the proceedings and never lets up, effectively creating the palpable tension that gives the song its emotional power. Author! Author! represented a huge leap forward for the band sonically, but it also ushered in an image change, which ultimately may have helped do the band in. In a move that in hindsight seems inexplicable given the band's gritty Post-Punk reputation at the time, they decided to adopt a look reminiscent of Viviene Westwood's World's End pirate-inspired collection (a look made famous by Adam Ant), and in doing so, they unknowingly aligned themselves with the New Romantic movement, whose music bore little resemblance to the tense, jagged pop genius of a band such as Scars. Too pop for the punks and too genuinely arty for the Duran Duran crowd.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Adam and The Ants- Dirk Wears White Sox (1979) / Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) / Prince Charming (1981) / Peel Sessions (1991) MP3 & FLAC
"You may not like the things we say, what's the difference anyway?"
Adam Ant: "Look, I'm a punk rocker. I always was; I'm not a New Romantic. But I was a punk rocker who wanted to get more than one fuckin' album. The Pistols were great, but they only did one fuckin' album. Not enough! Sorry!" It's easy to forget how fleeting the original U.K. Punk scene was before the media storm over The Sex Pistols' infamous appearance on Thames Today turned the whole thing into a simultaneously demonized and co-opted caricature of itself. In addition, with its prized rejection of technical proficiency as a criterion for musical expression (a philosophy that opened the scene to virtually anyone with a guitar, something to say and the bollocks to say it), few of the participants in the early Punk movement were interested in thinking about the music in careerist terms, as "no future" was more than just a catch phrase; it was an ethos. However, as many of the original Punk bands began recording albums and developing as musicians as well as song-writers, the aesthetic limitations of the basic Punk sound- three chords played really hard and really fast- became apparent; as a result, bands such as The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Penetration (to name only a few) began experimenting with and integrating other musical elements and influences into their work.
The new music scene (not yet labeled "punk") began to catch fire in early 1976, and Adam Ant, then known as Stewart Goddard, had recently dropped out of prestigious Hornsby College of Art to pursue a music career, a venture that originally took the form of playing bass in a pub band called Joe and The Bazookas. However, during one of their gigs, an opening band called The Sex Pistols changed everything. Inspired by what he had seen and heard, Goddard soon adopted his famous moniker and made a number of abortive attempts to form his own band. It was during this time that Adam Ant found his way into the orbit of the burgeoning Punk scene's uber-elite, who congregated at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's fashion boutique SEX. Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni: "Without the shop [...] there would have been no punk, no Sex Pistols, just a load of pub bands who would have made no impact on anything. Malcolm is of course a complete liar but what is true is that he invented the punk attitude and made the Pistols act it out for him [....] To ask how important clothes were to the early scene (not called punk, not called anything in fact) is ridiculous. Clothes were the scene. It was not fashion; it was totally anti-fashion to everything that was going on at the time. The scene was tiny and totally hated the outside world [....] It was about telling the world that you weren't what it wanted you to be; you weren't anything except what you wanted to be. And what better way to tell England that you would not accept any of its upper class, lower class, middle class know your place, we are your elders and betters, fucking feudal society than wearing offensive pornographic clothes on the street?"
|Adam Ant in his punk phase|
Adam Ant's most important connection at SEX was Jordan (Pamela Rooke) who, in addition to being one of the original architects of the now-iconic look of the London punks, served as Ant's manager and occasional vocalist after he formed Adam and The Ants in the spring of 1977. In many ways, this early version of the Ants stood in stark contrast to their Punk scene contemporaries, as they adopted a very theatrical stage presence (something that would also characterize the band's later, more pop-oriented incarnation) and employed explicit sadomasochistic imagery both lyrically and visually. It was these tendencies and Jordan's connections that landed Ant a part in the Derek Jarman film Jubilee, which also featured the band playing a particularly chaotic version of "Plastic Surgery." Due to a number of line-up changes, work on the Jubilee soundtrack, and a dispute with their soon-to-be ex-record label Decca, Adam and The Ants didn't get around to releasing their debut album until the fall of 1979. The self-produced Dirk Wears White Sox is easily the darkest and most divisive album of Adam Ant's career, and while many portray the debut as having little relation to the more polished, energetic, chart-savvy work that followed it, the chaotic blend of Glam excess, Punk minimalism, and Post-Punk melancholy that characterizes songs such as "Cleopatra" and "Tabletalk" does occasionally hint at the direction Adam and a new set of Ants would take a year later on Kings of the Wild Frontier.
Despite gaining the band a sizeable cult following, Dirk Wears White Sox was a commercial failure, which greatly disappointed Adam Ant, as chart success was something he had desired all along: "I wanted to be a graphic designer until I saw the Sex Pistols play live. This was 1975. That's when I knew I wanted to be a pop star, and that for me was like being a matador, a boxer." In an effort to change the band's commercial (mis)fortunes, Ant approached Malcolm McLaren about becoming the band's manager, the result of which was McLaren convincing the Ants to jump ship in order to form Bow Wow Wow with 14-year old lead singer Annabella Lwin. It was also around this time that McLaren had given the soon-to-be ex-Ants some world music recordings from which to gain inspiration for their next recording project, including The Royal Drummers of Burundi. When Adam Ant caught wind of his band's planned defection, he reportedly took these recordings with him to utilize with his new band, which, in addition to guitarist Marco Pirroni, also included two drummers. Once the new version of the band had been assembled, they were now in direct competition with Bow Wow Wow to record a batch of songs employing the Burundi-style percussion, a race Adam and The Ants won easily by, irony of all ironies, adopting a McLaren-style media-savvy image (Native-American pirate dandys) and releasing Kings of the Wild Frontier, an album that would make Adam Ant the pop star he so badly wanted to be.
Simply put, Kings of the Wild Frontier sounded like nothing else at the time. Displaying the same brand of androgynous swagger that had characterized the best of the Glam scene nine years earlier, employing stripped-down Burundi beats, Duane Eddy riffs, Native American chants, and a mish-mash of historical allusions, the second incarnation of Adam and The Ants managed to tap into the ominousness of the debut album while offering up a great slab of irresistible pop that was as daring as it was derivative, as biting as it was cartoonish. Nowhere is this summed up better than on the lead track "Dog Eat Dog," a song that clearly signals a new day has dawned for Adam and The Ants, as it goes far beyond anything on Dirk Wears White Sox in terms of accessibility. Beginning with a prelude of tribal beats mixed with whistles and howls, Pirroni's dark, spaghetti western guitar twang soon kicks in to set the stage for Adam Ant's defiant opening ultimatum: "You may not like the things we do, only idiots ignore the truth." Despite the tremendous commercial success of Kings of the Wild Frontier, the band only recorded one more LP together, Prince Charming, before Adam Ant embarked on his circuitously ill-fated solo career, and while the album features a few of the Ants' best songs, such as "Stand and Deliver" and the title track, overall it lacks the consistent quality of songcraft that made the previous album so memorable. Ultimately, there is one question that always seems to linger about when trying to re-evaluate Adam and The Ants: vacuous foppish trash by a Punk sell-out hell-bent on becoming a pop star? or a masterful re-imagining of the kind of image manipulation that defined the Glam-era married to an unapologetically post-modern bricolage of disparate cultural signifiers all woven into something daring, entirely disposable and eternally delicious? Can the answer be both?
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Intensely beautiful tribute to Warhol that was more or less my introduction to Drella, who turned out to be a lifelong interest of mine. This was Reed and Cale's first reunion since Bataclan '72.
A few nights ago in the midst of a migraine headache, I came up with a new approach for the Paisley Underground Series: to alternate the series' posts between (La) luna and Plastic Palace People. The way it will work is as follows:
the Paisley posts on (La) luna will continue to feature the lengthy reviews (and pretty colours), while the Paisley posts on Plastic Palace People will feature a brief introduction followed by the goods. Simply put, I still have a huge amount of Paisley material to post, but there's only so much one can write about some of these bands. This will allow me to expedite the series, which is good for you: more Paisley-related music more often, and for me: it both lessens the writing load and shortens the life-span of this behemoth series.
Look for Paisley Underground Series, #25 on Plastic Palace People next week and #26 on (La) luna soon thereafter. Also, upcoming Paisley posts include: Long Ryders, Steve Wynn, Last Days of May, Chris Cacavas, 28th Day, Mazzy Star, Bangles, Green on Red, Radio Tokyo Tapes, Thin White Rope, and more. ~voixautre
Paisley Underground Series, #24: The Three O'Clock- Sixteen Tambourines (1983) / Baroque Hoedown EP (1982) MP3 & FLAC
"Jet fighter man that's what I am 'cause tanks go too slow. Airplanes fly
and yet I feel so low."
and yet I feel so low."
As was the case with more than a few fledgling L.A.-area Garage-Rock bands during the late-seventies and early eighties, Salvation Army got their first real exposure by having a demo played on Rodney Bingenheimer's legendary L.A. radio show, Rodney on the Roq, which eventually led to a recording contract with Frontier Records and the release of their eponymous debut album in mid-1982. However, when the actual Salvation Army threatened legal action over the band's appropriation of its name, Michael Quercio & co. decided to rechristen themselves The Three O'Clock (the time of day they would meet to rehearse), while Frontier decided to promptly shelve the album the band had released a few months earlier as Salvation Army (it would re-appear under the moniker Befour Three O'clock a few years later). During the same period, the band experienced some personnel changes that resulted in the addition of Danny Benair, who had previously played drums for bands such as The Quick and The Weirdos, and ex-Great Buildings keyboardist Mike Mariano, both of whom helped shape the Garage-inflected Power-Pop that soon became The Three O'Clock's trademark.
On the back of these changes, the band, along with former Sparks guitarist Earle Mankey in the production booth, began recording the tracks that would comprise their first release as The Three O'clock: The Baroque Hoedown EP, which proved to be a significant step forward for the band artistically as well as sonically, as it captured them taking their first steps toward melding strands of Psychedelia, Power-Pop and New Wave into a sound that would, as much as any other, come to define the Paisley Underground scene. Leading off with the nonsensically titled classic "With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend," an extremely accomplished slice of Jangle-Pop bliss that is propelled by Quercio's fey vocals and Benair's energetic drumming, Baroque Hoedown boasts a handful of The Three O'Clock's finest moments on tape. While "I Go Wild" captures the sheer euphoria at the heart of the psychedelic experience better than just about any other song that comes to mind, it is the band's brilliant mod-beat-style cover of The Easybeats' classic song "Sorry" that stands above the rest. With Louis Gutierrez's stuttering guitar sound and Quercio's childlike yet swaggering vocals, the band accomplishes the rarest of feats: actually bettering a mid-sixties Garage-Rock gem.
After releasing Baroque Hoedown, The Three O'Clock immediately re-entered the studio, once again with Mankey at the helm, to record Sixteen Tambourines, an album that continued the band's evolution toward a brighter, jangly, more technically accomplished sound, but did so at the expense of the Punk aggression that had always been implicit in their sound. Nevertheless, the album features a number of paisley-tinged Power-Pop gems, including "Jet Fighter," which garnered the band a significant amount of exposure outside of the confines of its Southern California home base. Perhaps the highlight of Sixteen Tambourines is "Fall to the Ground," a wistful, Beatlesque song that finds the band dialing down their wide-eyed exuberance a bit in favor of a more baroque sound that clearly indicates the rapid growth they had undergone as songwriters. A year after releasing Sixteen Tambourines, The Three O'Clock left Frontier to sign with the higher-profile indie I.R.S. Records, a move that, at the time, seemed like a logical step for the band, but one that never lived up to its promise, as I.R.S. was more interested in having them record more songs like "Jet Fighter" than providing the kind of support and financial backing that would have made it possible for them to evolve their sound in new directions rather than to slowly, album-to-album, devolve into the faceless twee-pop band they had become by the time they disbanded in 1988. Despite this, it would be hard to name another band who captured the spirit of the early Paisley scene quite as joyously as The Three O'Clock.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
"There ain't no wealth that can buy my pride. There ain't no pain that can cleanse my soul."
Following the release of what many believe to be Tim Buckley's most enduring album, Happy Sad, on which Buckley had introduced a new palette of Jazz-inflected textures to his Folk-based aesthetic, he decided the time was right to make some radical changes in both sound and approach. To begin with, during the months he spent touring in support of Happy Sad, Buckley had grown increasingly disenchanted with playing to the expectations of both the music press and his fan-base, both of which, it seemed, were steadfastly invested in seeing him embrace the role of torchbearer for a folk music scene, that, by the late sixties, was quickly losing steam in the U.S. As the tour progressed, Buckley began introducing new material that was based on a highly improvisational minimalist Jazz approach; he simultaneously began exploring new minimalist-informed arrangements of his older material as well. And, inspired by avant-garde vocalists such as Cathy Berberian, Buckley soon began to push his multi-octave voice to new, decidedly un-Folk-like, extremes. He was also at a crossroads in terms record labels: Elektra, whom he owed one more record, was about to be sold by Jac Holzman; his old manager and close friend Herb Cohen was starting a new label, Straight Records, with Frank Zappa; and, as part of a distribution deal, he owed an album to Warner Bros. As a result, in mid 1969, Buckley recorded three albums in one month, two of which he produced himself.
Two of these albums constituted a significant and startling sonic departure for Buckley, as on Lorca and Starsailor, he explored his burgeoning interest in minimalist Jazz using a largely free-form compositional approach. However, Blue Afternoon, recorded immediately after the extremely unconventional Lorca, in many ways reaches back to the sound and approach of Happy Sad. Lee Underwood: "By the time Tim had evolved into the beginnings of his avante-garde phase with Lorca, it was conceptually regressive to go back to Happy Sad's aesthetic perspective for Blue Afternoon." Nevertheless, "[s]ome of Tim's all-time great songs are on that album [....] True, Blue Afternoon was a collection of old songs, but it was not a collection of unreleased out-takes from previous recording sessions. We recorded them new and fresh specifically for that album [....] Tim knew Lorca was unlikely to be a big hit in the marketplace. He loved Blue Afternoon's old tunes, which had found no home elsewhere. He was shifting labels, moving from Elekra to Herb's new label, Straight, and he wanted to help give that label a commercial launch. For all those reasons, Tim and the rest of us worked as hard as we could on Blue Afternoon, even though it was a conceptual step backwards [....] it was also an effort Tim wanted and needed to make."
Underwood might have characterized Blue Afternoon as a case of conceptual regression, but it would be hard to argue that it is anything other than an artistic triumph. While it was critically reviled upon its release, the album has grown in stature to a significant degree in the decades since its release despite being out of print for much of that time, and though it is usually characterized as little more than an extension of the Happy Sad sound, careful listeners will detect subtle signs of Buckley's more avante-garde inclinations occasionally shining through. The Blue Afternoon sessions were recorded in New York City using the same musicians who had worked on Happy Sad with the addition of drummer Jimmy Madison, while many of the songs themselves were compositions that had failed, for one reason or another, to find a place on Buckley's earlier albums but were deemed too good to remain orphans. While the earlier versions of these songs, which can be found on Works in Progress, are beautiful and revelatory in their own right, Blue Afternoon stands as perhaps Buckley's purest distillation of the Folk-Jazz hybrid that he, along with Fred Neil, either invented or entirely transformed. One of the album's gems is "I Must Have Been Blind," which is easily the equal of anything on Happy Sad, and while on one level it is a fine piece of modern Folk, the unconventional choice of instrumentation, especially the prominence given to David Friedman's vibes, lends the song a strange ethereal feel that compliments one of Buckley's more retrained vocal performances. And then there's "Blue Melody," one of Buckley's best compositions and jaw-droppingly beautiful in this languidly jazzed-up version. What makes Blue Afternoon such a timeless album is its emphasis on dynamics, as the loose interplay between vibes, percussion and Buckley's haunting vocals results in a fluid form of musical expression that differentiates this album from virtually anything else falling under the broad categorical term "Folk." Tim Buckley: "Music. It's the total communication between people in a room. You can take me to a political rally and the relationship between the politics and the people is pretty far removed, so that room doesn't cook. I see music and religion- like the gospel thing- and that cooks. But I see the music as separate from God. The people may do it out of praise for God, but what happens in that situation happens because the people are singing their souls out."
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
"An empty home, a vacant hell. I knew you in the harsh realm."
It is sobering to realize that it has now been a decade and a half since Mazzy Star's last release, Among My Swan, and though the ensuing years have brought many attempts to replicate their narcotic brand of bluesy psych-folk, none have been able to convincingly capture the alluring darkness that characterized the collaboration between David Roback and Hope Sandoval. The closest, in my estimation, was Miranda Lee Richards' brief stint in The Brian Jonestown Massacre, which yielded some brilliant, sleepy psych-folk such as "Reign On" from the Bringing It All Back Home Again EP; however, that was before I had heard Widowspeak, who appeared on the scene in early 2011 with their single "Harsh Realm," a deliciously sullen bit of Mazzy-worthy navel-gazing dressed in heavily-reverbed fifties-style paranoia, which was reportedly recorded after having only played six shows together as a unit. A Brooklyn trio with roots in the Pacific Northwest, Widowspeak belie these origins by conjuring a Southern California Paisley vibe, while giving it their own twist by cutting it with the kind of fifties and early-sixties musical references that would make David Lynch proud, as well as introducing a subtle but gritty Garage-Rock element, both of which lend Widowspeak a bit more sonic variation than what can be found in the iconic sound of their obvious main influence.
Lead-singer and rhythm guitarist Molly Hamilton:
"I think during the first practice, in my apartment, we talked about the 50′s- Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, early Elvis, and we initially wanted the band to have that sound. I don’t think that happened, but that first practice was cool because all of our weird obsessions came out. Michael and I share an encyclopedic knowledge of the grunge era because of our Northwest upbringings, as well as a love for the Sonics and 60′s garage. Rob’s more into the 70′s, Television and the Stones. Rob and I love Pavement, but Michael is crazy and prefers Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. We all dig the Velvet Underground. I also listen to a lot of really old country and blues and 90′s pop music. We cover “Wicked Game,” but we’ve also talked about covering the Cranberries and the Carter Family, if that says anything about how weird our influences are."
While it is the band's memorable cover of Chris Isaak's classic David Lynch-inspired slow-burner "Wicked Game" that has created much of the buzz surrounding Widowspeak in the early-going, it is actually their beautifully crestfallen self-titled debut album that is most deserving of attention. Admittedly, throughout the course of the album, the ghost of Mazzy Star is almost always within earshot (especially in relation to the lead vocals); however, Molly Hamilton, Michael Stasiak and Robert Earl Thomas never succumb to pure tributary. Instead, by deftly integrating a range of distinguishing influences and emotions, Widowspeak is able to stake out its own sonic territory, thus earning the right to be heard on its own terms. The lead track, "Puritan," is a case in point; while for much of the song, Hamilton seems to be channeling Hope Sandoval to an uncanny degree, she also occasionally adds unpredictable phrasings to her vocals that lend the song a distinctly non-Mazzy glimmer of emotional lightness. This, coupled with Thomas' Morricone meets surf-rock guitar-style, allows Widowspeak to offer up a glimpse of what might make them truly unique down the road. Likewise, on their second single, "Gun Shy," the band adopts a more upbeat, hook-filled approach, thus finally providing Hamilton with a vehicle for transcending the chorus of Sandoval comparisons, something she takes advantage of to great affect. At first blush, it is tempting to embrace Widowspeak simply for softening the sting associated with Mazzy Star's sixteen years of silence, but on closer inspection, the quality of the songs and the album's range of material both suggest that Widowspeak have more on their minds than playing the role of pysch-folk surrogates.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Yeah, I know it sounds a lot like Mazzy Star, but since they have gone into permanent hibernation despite periodic rumors to the contrary, Widowspeak is a capable substitute with a few sonic wrinkles of their own...
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Nine months ago today, I made my first post on (La) luna, which was then called The Killing Moon, and in doing so, I started my blogging odyssey. Little did I know way back then how quickly the blog would grow and how much it would change from its original incarnation. This blog also led to the creation of a second blog, Plastic Palace People, which has also grown immensely in a very short span of time. Both blogs continue to be an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and I wanted to thank all of you, the readers, for your interest, time and comments. One of the tough things about maintaining a blog like this is remaining consistently inspired day-to-day because without inspiration, the quality suffers significantly. In my case, I draw my inspiration directly from my interactions with the readers- truly, you have been the best part of my blogging experience.
The only tangible ways I have of gauging whether you find the blog interesting and/or enjoyable is through the comments that are left on the individual posts and by the number of members the blog has. As such, I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to leave comments when you can (and certainly when you feel inspired) and, if you haven't already done so, please click the "Join" button in the side bar toward the top of the blog. It is greatly appreciated. We are currently at 285 members and I would love to make 300 by December 17th, our one year anniversary, so if you can, please help out.
Finally, I also wanted to mention some upcoming changes and features. I am currently working on some new Andy Warhol-inspired artwork for either the header or the blog's background, and in the coming months, I will be adding a page in the tab bar devoted to Amour & Discipline, a new organization devoted to providing music sharers the opportunity (entirely voluntary of course) to donate funds directly to the artists whose work they download on blogs like (La) luna & Plastic Palace People. More to come on that soon. I am also in the very very early stages of conceiving a multi-authored online magazine devoted to music reviews/interviews/recommendations/internet censorship issues/etc., which I see as a natural extension of (and at some point possibly a progression from) (La) luna.
Once again, thank you so much for reading and downloading from (La) luna and Plastic Palace People. I have some great posts in the works for you, so stay tuned!!! ~voixautre
Pubblicato da voixautre at 10:26 PM
Here's a taster for an upcoming post: Alan Vega & Martin Rev's legendary proto-post/punk duo Suicide, whose collected works are the only music I keep on my iPod (for long train trips and family gatherings)
John Foxx- Metamatic (1980) Deluxe Edition (Bonus Disc) / The Garden (1981) Deluxe Edition (Bonus Disc) MP3 & FLAC
"Over all the bridges, echoes in rows, talking at the same time, click click drone."
Despite being a seminal figure in the rise of experimental synth-pop during the late 1970s, John Foxx has never received the level of notoriety lavished on fellow synth-pioneers Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. Nevertheless, Foxx's uniquely detached vocal style as well as his consistently challenging approach to Electronic music, both of which he progressively developed during his tenure in Ultravox(!), were clearly major influences on Numan as well as any number of lesser New Wave artists who littered the musical landscape throughout the early eighties. In fact, aside from David Sylvian's mature work with Japan, it would be hard to find a more trailblazing figure in post-Glam electro-pop. Foxx (then known as Dennis Leigh) spent much of the mid-seventies in a marginal Glam band called Tiger Lilly, but in the aftermath of the rise of the Punk movement, he, along with violinist Billy Currie, formed Ultravox! whose first three albums, Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!Ha!, and Systems of Romance, trace an increasingly experimental progression from Glam and Krautrock-inspired Post-Punk to a more lush yet minimalist, synth-dominated sound that points ahead to Foxx's even more groundbreaking solo work. Perhaps due to Ultravox's unselfconsciously experimental nature, the U.K. press was always dismissive of Foxx's version of the band. John Foxx: "Very early on, we decided to investigate and develop lots of what had then been declared ungood and which we felt were manifesting themselves and were worth recording. These included psychedelia, electronics, cyberpunk, environments and elements suggested by the likes of Ballard and Burroughs, cheap European music and modes, and strange English pop, such as some aspects of The Shadows and Billy Fury which seemed to relate to a sort of English retro-futurism. We were interested in a sort of ripped and burnt glamour. I was also taken with a detached, still stance."
Ostensibly, Foxx's decision to go solo after Ultravox's brilliant third album, Systems of Romance, had to do with the band's increasingly difficult circumstances, which included being dropped by their label, Island, on the eve of a U.S. tour. However, Foxx has suggested his departure was inevitable given his desire to pursue his own muse without interference: "The band thing is a phase- like being in a gang. You can't really be part of a gang all your life; it begins to feel undignified and it stunts your growth, unless you want to be a teenager forever. Some do. Some don't. The benefits were the Gestalt- where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, a very powerful experience- and working in a closed society with people who have the same aim. Of course, the aims almost inevitably diverge as you all grow. The point of view I've always worked from is that of a ghost in the city- someone who is a sort of drifting, detached onlooker- but still vulnerable and trying against all odds to maintain a sort of dignity in the face of all the static." Foxx would take this "ghost in the city" approach to a new level on his inimitable debut LP, Metamatic, quite possibly the most important electro-pop album of the eighties. Recorded in a small studio in North London, which Foxx once described as "an eight track cupboard [...] Very basic, very scruffy, very good," the album represents quite a departure from his work with Ultravox, as it completely dispenses with conventional instruments (and in the process, Foxx's Punk origins), instead relying entirely on synthetic textures, and in doing so, achieving a chilly, mechanized aesthetic that is both aurally challenging and artistically compelling.
Foxx: "I lived alone in Finsbury Park, spent my spare time walking the disused train lines, cycled to the studio everyday and wobbled back at dawn, imagining I was the Marcel Duchamp of electropop. Metamatic was the result. It was the first British electronic pop album. It was minimal, primitive technopunk. Carcrash music tailored by Burtons." Both lyrically and musically, Metamatic conjures dystopian images of isolated individuals navigating cold landscapes populated only by architecture and machines, with a recurring theme being disconnection. For example, on the stunningly strange opening track, "Plaza," Foxx's dis-attached vocals are surrounded by several synths all sounding as though entirely isolated from each other. This gives the song an eerie dislocated feel that contrasts sharply with the rather straightforwardly descriptive lyrics. The most recognizably pop-oriented song on the album is "Underpass," an electro-pop masterpiece that manages to be minimalist and incredibly catchy at the same time; it's melodramatic synthesizers and Foxx's heavily treated robotic vocals create another dark tale of unbridgeable distances, but the tension is undercut by the song's inherent danceability. While Metamatic ultimately proved to be the least outwardly accessible of Foxx's eighties solo albums, it also proved to be his greatest, as its follow-up, The Garden, though a fine piece of synth-driven pop in its own right, signaled a step toward a more conventionally melodic sound that Foxx would continue to explore, despite diminishing returns, for the remainder of the decade until dropping out of public view in 1986; however, it did not take long for his considerable influence to be felt. Foxx: "All the same sounds surfaced again after 1987, reanimated with beautiful new rhythms, as the beginnings of Acid. I recognized the vocabulary immediately. A new underground at last. Adventure was possible again after the double-breasted dumbness of the mid-eighties."
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Another great Scottish Post-Punk band that appeared at the dawn of the eighties, Edinburgh's the Scars only released one album, and in my estimation, it deserves far more love/recognition than it gets- Josef who?
"I'd work very hard, but I'm lazy, I've got a lot of songs but they're all in my head. I'll get a guitar and a lover who pays me, if I can't be a star, I won't get out of bed."
Before forming Elastica (originally known as Onk) in mid-1992, Justine Frischmann was known more for her romantic conquests than her musical exploits. Having co-founded the iconic Brit-Pop band Suede in 1989 with then-college boyfriend Brett Anderson, Frischmann ended up being jettisoned from the band when she started up romantically with Damon Albarn of Brit-Pop rivals Blur. As former Suede lead guitarist Bernard Butler recalls, "She'd turn up late for rehearsals and say the worst thing in the world- 'I've been on a Blur video shoot.' That was when it ended, really. I think it was the day after she said that that Brett phoned me up and said, 'I've kicked her out.'" Frischmann's version: "I just thought it was better to be Pete Best than Linda McCartney. Apart from anything, I just couldn't deal with being the second guitarist and having this strange, Lady Macbeth role in it along with being general mother to four blokes." Whatever the reason for her exit from Suede, she quickly set about forming her own band with another ex-Suede refugee, drummer Justin Welch who had also spent time in Spitfire.
After adding guitarist Donna Matthews, who had answered an ad the band had placed in Melody Maker specifying someone influenced by The Fall, The Stranglers and Wire, Elastica quickly gained exposure, first by opening for Blur as well as Pulp, recording a session for John Peel's BBC radio show, and then by issuing three very successful singles, one of which, "Connection," accomplished something few Brit-Pop bands were able to do: achieve chart success in the U.S. However, from the beginning, many accused Elastica of riding on the coattails of Albarn's immense success with Blur, and the band was also sued by two of their main influences, Wire and The Stranglers, for what amounted to plagiarism (they settled both cases out of court). Despite such adversity, Elastica's self-titled debut LP was nothing less than an unprecedented success, becoming the fastest selling debut album ever released in the U.K. and being nominated for the Mercury Prize. What made this success so surprising was how out of step Elastica was with the prevailing trends in indie music at the time; while most Brit-Pop bands were reaching back to either Glam-Rock (Suede) or the classic guitar-pop of The Beatles and The Kinks (Oasis and Blur respectively), Elastica's sound was firmly rooted in British Post-Punk bands such as Wire and the Buzzcocks (and in this sense, they were a full five years ahead of their time). The album itself is soaked in edgy, angular guitar riffs, defiantly blunt lyrics and masterful hooks, all of which highlight how the debate over the band's (lack of) originality was utterly beside the point. Afterall, if Frischmann & co. were borrowing ideas from Wire and The Stranglers, how was that any different than Oasis' liberal copping of The Beatles? In fact, one could argue that Elastica, just by virtue of the material they chose to "borrow," was far more "original" than most of their Brit-Pop brethren; it's not just any band that can transform the arty pretensions of Wire into a nearly perfect three-minute pop song.
Listening to the opening bars of the debut album's lead track, "Line Up," with its grimy guitar blasts and sexually suggestive lyrics, it becomes instantly clear just how influential Elastica's sound was with the Post-Punk revival crowd of the early 2000s. Yes, it does remind one a bit of Blur's "Girls and Boys," but it is far more aggressive in tone and darker in texture. On the impossibly infectious "Connection," Frischmann's Punk-infused sing-song vocal delivery and the band's sexy swagger combine into something that completely transcends their influences and is arguably one of the best singles released during the nineties. Despite (or perhaps due to) the enormous success of Elastica, the band was unable to produce a follow-up until The Menace was issued in 2000. During the course of the intervening six years between albums, drug abuse and the departure of several original band members took a heavy toll, as the band was constantly rumored to be on the verge of dissolution, something which finally came to fruition a year after their return. Nevertheless, it seems that Frischmann was prescient enough to see the writing on the wall at the height of Elastica's success: "In a musical sense, it seemed like all the good intentions had gone awry, very quickly. I mean, we got back from America and Blur had made The Great Escape, which I thought was a really, truly awful album- so cheesy, like a parody of Parklife, but without the balls or the intellect. And Oasis were enormous and I always found them incredibly dreary. There was this uncritical reverence surrounding the whole thing; it had seemed to me that maybe I was part of some force that was going to make music edgier and more interesting and then suddenly Blur were playing Wembley stadium and it was gone."
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Fine S.F. indie band that sounds a little like Elvis Costello fronting Spiritualized. They just released a new LP yesterday , Father, Son, Holy Ghost. More on Girls coming soon...
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
"Excrement filters through the brain, hatred bends the spine, filth covers the body pores,
to be cleansed by dying time."
to be cleansed by dying time."
Nico's fateful first meeting with Andy Warhol in early 1966 was orchestrated by Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who had been instrumental in helping Nico jump-start her music career by putting her in touch with Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham, resulting in the Jimmy Page-produced "I'm Not Sayin' / Last Mile" single. Warhol and his Factory entourage (including Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick) had been in Paris in May 1965 for Warhol's exhibition of flower paintings, during which Malanga, at the behest of Jones, met with Nico and was impressed enough to give her the Factory's phone number. When Nico arrived in New York City at the beginning of 1966 to sign a modeling contract with the Ford Modeling Agency, she wasted little time in calling the number. Andy Warhol: "She called us from a Mexican restaurant and we went right over to meet her. She was sitting at a table with a pitcher in front of her, dipping her long beautiful fingers into the sangria, lifting out slices of wine-soaked oranges. When she saw us, she tilted her head to the side and brushed her hair back with her other hand and said very slowly, 'I only like the fooood that flooooats in the wiine.' [....] The minute we left the restaurant Paul [Morrissey] said that we should use Nico in the movies and find a rock group to play for her. He was raving that she was 'the most beautiful creature that ever lived.'"
Born Christa Päffgen in Cologne, Germany on the precipice of World War II, her father, a German soldier, died in a Nazi concentration camp during the war as a result of medical experiments that were performed on him in order to study the severe brain damage he had suffered on the battlefield. After the war, Päffgen worked as a seamstress and soon began landing modeling jobs in Berlin. It was a photographer on one of these jobs who gave her the now-iconic sobriquet, "Nico," which quickly became her preferred identity. After working in Paris modeling for Vogue, Tempo, Elle, and other top fashion magazines, Nico temporarily moved to New York City to study acting at Lee Strasberg's Method School; it was around this time that she was "discovered" by Fellini during the filming of La Dolce Vita, which led to her famous cameo in the film.
When she returned to New York City at the beginning of 1966 to ostensibly resume her modeling career, Nico was more intent on pursuing film-work and music; this is what led her into Warhol's considerably influential orbit. Nico: "I only wanted to be with the underground people. I wasn't interested in fashion anymore, and I had also studied acting with Lee Strasberg, which helped me a lot to sort of discover myself like all young people always have to discover themselves." As it turned out, it was not only Paul Morrissey who was captivated by Nico at her first meeting with Warhol; the artist himself was also quite smitten and immediately began casting her in his experimental films such as Chelsea Girls and Imitation of Christ. It was during this same period that Warhol took on the role of patron of a struggling young rock band with a seamy reputation: The Velvet Underground. While it may be the case that the idea from the start was for the Velvets to serve as Nico's backing band, it's hard to deny the key role Warhol's patronage played in the band's development. Nico: "He [Warhol] was the one who had the guts to save The Velvet Underground from poverty and misery because they had been thrown out of a place in the village on 3rd Street, Cafe Bizarre, because people couldn't dance to their music. So they had no job so that's when Andy came and saved the situation, and that's when I joined them."
Paul Morrissey: "The singing was done by Lou Reed and he just seemed, um, not a very good singer and not a good personality- uh, something too seedy about him, and he was not a natural performer; he was sort of a shy type on stage." Nico's official role in the band was "chanteuse," but a more accurate term, especially at the beginning, was "pariah," as she was not deemed by the Velvets as a good fit for their sound. After much cajoling from Warhol, Reed finally agreed to write some songs for her, though the situation was far from stable, as, according to Sterling Morrison, Nico sought sexual alliances in the band (namely Reed and then John Cale) in order gain a stronger foothold in the group. Ultimately, she was never considered as anything more than an interloper, and on the tellingly-titled The Velvet Underground & Nico, Nico's only album as a "member" of the band, she was only given three songs as lead vocalist. Toward the end of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour, Nico began to separate from the Velvets, doing solo shows at various coffee houses as well as the Dom Bar. During these shows, she was accompanied on acoustic guitar by among others, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Tim Hardin, and several of her soon-to-be ex-band mates, many of whom would contribute songs to her debut album, Chelsea Girl, recorded in late spring 1967.
Produced by Tom Wilson, who had worked on the Velvets' debut album, Chelsea Girl, at first blush, sounds like an apt example of the kind of overly fussed-over baroque chamber-folk that was so prevalent during the mid-to-late sixties; however, what sets it apart and makes it approach timelessness is Nico herself. More than once, Nico has been described as proto-Goth, and the sound of her unmistakeable baritone with its ability to convey an icy sense of achingly dark world-weariness was undoubtedly a huge influence on the post-punks more than a decade later. Simply put, Nico's artistic approach and mercurial personality were completely at odds with the pop-temptress stereotype that most female artists were saddled with during the late sixties. Paul Morrissey: "She started at some point, um, having a real resentment over her good looks. She hated the fact that people thought she was beautiful. She thought that this was some sort of disgrace to be beautiful. But in those days modeling was not artistic, you know, artistic was to be like Janis Joplin screaming your lungs out before you die of drug addiction. She was so happy to be called ugly."
Chelsea Girl is easily Nico's most eclectic solo album, something which is largely due to it being comprised of "donated" songs from the various singer-songwriters Nico had spent time with during her fledgling music career. However, there are two prevailing directions on the album that stand in stark contrast with each other. A then-unknown Jackson Browne (Nico's lover at the time) provides three songs, the best of which, "These Days," finds Nico in top form. Backed by Browne's lovely guitar playing, Nico dresses his reflective lyrics in somber tones that manage to capture the dark, introspective nature of the song in ways another singer wouldn't have. In contrast to Browne's contributions, which verge on wistfulness on occasion, there are five significantly darker songs penned by various members of her former band, The Velvet Underground. Chief among these is the title track written by Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison, a hypnotically depressed epic that recalls "Femme Fatale" from the Velvets debut album. Perhaps the true gem on Chelsea Girls is its darkest moment: Lou Reed's "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," a song he had written previous to forming the Velvets. In a way, it provides an emotional counterpoint to "These Days" and points the way toward Nico's more unconventional solo works such as The Marble Index. Despite her debut album's obvious strengths, Nico was notoriously dismissive of the finished product, claiming (quite accurately) that some of the production decisions blunted the power of the music. Nico: "I still cannot listen to it, because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. And I asked for simplicity and they covered it in flutes [...] They added strings and- I didn't like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute."
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Sure, they were pretty much puppets at this point, but man, Chilton was already something special and only sixteen at the time.
"I'm a little intellectual, someone who knows it all. I could be your summer special, you could be my New York Doll."
The back-story of The Undertones is the kind of thing that makes rock music so endlessly intriguing and endearing: five teenage friends (including two brothers) from Derry, Northern Ireland form a band in the mid-seventies to play Beatles and Lindisfarne covers, but in the wake of the Ramones' legendary July, '76 British tour and its aftermath, everything changes- the Punk revolution arrives, and a few short years later, after sending a demo to John Peel requesting he play their music on his BBC radio show, the band, now called The Undertones, has a hit single called "Teenage Kicks." However, being a Punk band in Northern Ireland in 1978 was a difficult proposition, as lead guitarist Damian O'Neill recalls: "We were out on a limb [....] We felt stranded in Derry. There was a bit of a scene in Belfast, but there was nothing going on where we lived. And we were getting a lot of crap and abuse on the street for doing the music that we did [....] We wouldn't dress the way that punks did in London, but just wearing straight jeans could get your head kicked in. And having short hair [....] We were singled out a lot just for being punk rockers. On the back of the Teenage Kicks EP, there's a photo: 'The Undertones Are Shit.' That's genuine. That's the kind of feeling we got from people.'" Much like fellow early punkers the Buzzcocks, The Undertones were as deeply influenced by mid-sixties pop and Garage-Rock as they were by the vanguard of the burgeoning Punk scene, such as The Damned and The Sex Pistols. Their sound, which has been described as "punk-pop," followed, at least on their first two albums, a very similar approach to the Ramones, in the sense of marrying sixties-style pop hooks to a more aggressive style and a faster beat. However, hailing from Northern Ireland, which at the time was rife with political violence, this got them into trouble because their music refused to make overt references to the political situation. Damian O'Neill: "We loved fifties and sixties rock and roll, and girl groups like The Shirelles, and then of course The New York Dolls and MC5. We wanted to write about love and girls nor bombs and bullets." What also set The Undertones apart was their lead singer Feargal Sharkey, whose quavering vocals were equally adept at snotty sarcasm and wide-eyed vulnerability, a voice whose unconventionality in the context of the Punk scene helped give the band its unique sound.
Thanks to John Peel's tireless efforts to gain the band some radio exposure, they were signed by Sire (which made them label-mates of their idols the Ramones), and soon thereafter made their first trip to London to commence working on their debut LP, The Undertones. O'Neill: "The first time you're ever in London, your eyes are wide open. It was a great atmosphere, and the camaraderie was great. It was probably the best time, you know? The best time in the band." The album itself is a peerless piece of simple yet enduring stripped down pop that, coupled with the band's punk sensibilities, presents them as something like Northern Ireland's version of the early Kinks. A perfect example is the brilliant opening track, "Family Entertainment," which, while brimming with Punk energy, also demonstrates wry lyrics and a keen melodic sense- neither of which were exactly hallmarks of the early U.K. Punk scene. While for the most part, The Undertones, on their debut, are content to crank out unforgettable teenage anthems such as "Here Comes the Summer" and the iconic single "Teenage Kicks," they do occasionally tread upon darker territory, such as the suicide lament "Jimmy Jimmy," which has the influence of the Ramones written all over it. Despite their popularity, The Undertones were not a well-loved band in many quarters due to a perceived lack of Punk credibility, part of which was due to Sharkey's vocal style, but also the band's resistance to politicizing their work (something which led to a minor feud with fellow Irish punkers, Stiff Little Fingers from Belfast). The band would famously reference this lack of respect as well as the pressures of trying to come up with a second act after their debut in the mockingly brilliant title of the lead track from their equally accomplished second album, Hypnotised. "More Songs About Chocolate and Girls" instantly demonstrates The Undertones' growing ability as song-writers, which, throughout the album, pushes them beyond the limitations of the Punk aesthetic that defined the first album. Songs such as "My Perfect Cousin," and the Jangle-Pop masterpiece "Wednesday Week," are indicative of the artistic growth the band would continue to undergo over the course of their next two albums, though sadly, it would also spell their end, as an eroding fan-base (hugely undeserved) and internal strife led to Sharkey's exit in 1983. Sharkey: "One of the reasons I left when I did was that I wanted to preserve The Undertones for people as something special. Listening to people saying, 'I was in a bad part of my life and listening to your album helped me through it' is a great feeling. That's the biggest achievement I've ever had, to affect people's lives [....] No matter what you do, your life will eventually fall into a certain routine and its good to get released from that for three and a half minutes."
It amazes me how little-known John Foxx is these days. After three incredible records with the original incarnation of Ultravox, he made one of the most important albums of the eighties, Metamatic. if you've never heard it, stay tuned, because I will be posting it along with his second album in a few days.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Here's some exquisite Warhol film footage of Nico with her peerless rendition of "Chelsea Girls" (written by Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison) as a soundtrack. To all you Nico haters out there: how can you resist that voice?
Paisley Underground Series, #23: Wednesday Week- What We Had (1987) / Betsy's House EP (1983) MP3 & FLAC
"There's no going back, too much has changed. It's mostly me though that's not the same."
While often unfairly overshadowed by Paisley Underground cohorts The Bangles, Wednesday week boasted an impressive pedigree that at various points in the band's evolution included stints by Steve Wynn & Dave Provost of The Dream Syndicate and Kjehl Johansen of The Urinals. Driven creatively by sisters Kristi and Kelly Callan, the band went through several name changes before issuing their first recordings on a pair of legendary L.A. underground music comps: Warf Rat Tales and Radio Tokyo Tapes. In fact, it was Vitus Mataré, the curator and producer of the former, as well as the keyboard player for The Last, who forced the Callans to come up with the name that would endure for the remainder the band's existence. When they first drew interest from Warf Rat Records, the Callans' called their band Narrow Adventure, a name Mataré wisely objected to; as a result, he issued the band a terse ultimatum: change your name or you'll be dropped from the comp. Inspired by The Undertones' classic song of the same name, the band rechristened itself Wednesday Week and set to work on the Betsy's House EP, a group of songs that demonstrate Wednesday Week's Garage-Rock origins to a far greater extent than the significantly more polished work they later issued on Enigma Records. For example, on "I Don't Know," the band's trademark jangle is certainly there, but it's dressed in harsh, cutting tones, lending the song, with some help from Kristi Callan's wonderfully wounded lead vocals, a significant emotional bite.
By the time Wednesday Week had issued their presciently-titled debut album, What We Had, a staggering four years later, the Paisley movement was showing signs of decline, and though Jangle-Pop was still popular with the college-rock crowd, any hope Wednesday Week might have had for a commercial breakthrough along the lines of The Go-Gos or The Bangles was in vain. Nevertheless, their Enigma debut, though a bit over-polished in places, stands as a fine example of late-eighties Jangle-Pop and also has the distinction of being produced by one of the architects of the eighties jangle-revival, Don Dixon. Interestingly, Dixon manages to give the album both a glossy sheen and a dark murkiness that results in a sound that is certainly reminiscent of The Bangles' earlier work, but the band consistently demonstrates a melodic sensibility that sets them apart to some extent from their contemporaries. On "Missionary" for instance, the Callan sisters reach for a heavier sound that they beautifully punctuate with yearning lead vocals and a memorable harmony-driven chorus, resulting in one of the better singles released during the waning days of the Paisley scene. Another distinctive characteristic of the band's sound that tended to go unmentioned in the context of all the Bangles comparisons is their emphasis on Power-Pop over psych-rock. While there are certainly subtle psychedelic flourishes sprinkled throughout What We Had, songs such as "Why" and the brilliant "Forever" suggest the Callan sisters spent as much time listening to Big Star as they did The Byrds. What We Had is the kind of album that can slip by unnoticed but if given half a chance, has a wealth of hidden gems to offer. Unfortunately for Wednesday Week, few took the time to listen in 1987, and the band called it quits three years later.
Monday, September 5, 2011
In my humble estimation, an insanely underrated Punk-Pop band who could also pen a great piece of Jangle-Pop on occasion and do it with a sense of humor! I've been on an Undertones jag all weekend. Now it's your turn...
"Oh perfect masters, they thrive on disasters. They all look so harmless
till they find their way up there."
Brian Eno on the random circumstances leading to his tenure in Roxy Music: "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy [Mackay], I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music. If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now." Although initially, Eno's role in the band was behind the scenes as "Technical Adviser" due to his lack of experience as a performing musician, it didn't take long for him to join his Roxy Music band-mates on stage where he quickly evolved into one of the most flamboyant figures on the British Glam scene (which was an achievement in itself). Truth be told, Eno was never going to last long as part of the supporting cast for a figure like Bryan Ferry, who was becoming more and more concerned with mainstream success just as Eno was trying to push the band in a more artsy, proggy direction. Eno: "My position in Roxy Music was always half-way between the musical and the theoretical. I was never the sort of person who could sit down at the piano and hammer out a song, or says, 'Here man, play this.' I'm much more interested in talking about the ideas behind the music. Working things out from the aesthetic." Things came to a head immediately following the tour in support of Roxy Music's second album, For Your Pleasure, when Eno as well as several other band members expressed concern over Ferry's increasingly domineering control of the band's direction. What resulted was Eno's June, 1973 departure from Roxy Music and the beginning of one of the most innovative and uncompromising solo careers of the rock era.
Brian Eno: "I'm always prone to do things very quickly, which has distinct advantages- you leave all the mistakes in, and the mistakes always become interesting. The Velvet Underground, for example, are the epitome of mistake-filled music, and it makes the music very subtle and beautiful." As would prove to be his habit throughout the remainder of the seventies, Eno took very little time after exiting Roxy Music to finish his first solo LP, Here Come the Warm Jets. Armed with a highly suggestive title, which, in an infamous NME interview with future-Pretender Chrissie Hynde, Eno hinted might refer to the dreaded "golden shower," the album was all but guaranteed to turn heads, but Eno's time in Roxy Music had also garnered him quite a following among critics; all of this helped make his debut one of the most commercially successful albums of Eno's career. The sessions for Here Come the Warm Jets included Roxy Music sans Ferry, Robert Fripp & John Wetton from King Crimson, as well as members of Hawkwind and Pink Fairies, and aside from taking over lead vocals (for the first time), Eno was apparently content to reprise his Roxy-era role of master sound processor, something which lends the album its uniquely manic feel. While in some ways the album is clearly grounded in the artier margins of the U.K. Glam movement, which had more or less defined the early seventies but by late '73 was beginning to lose steam, in other ways, its avant-garde flourishes and heavily processed sound are anticipatory of the Post-Punk and Shoegaze movements that would respectively punctuate the closing years of the seventies and the eighties. Among the album's many standouts, none is as instantly memorable and confounding as "Dead Finks Don't Talk," a song which Eno has admitted was, at least on an unconscious level, a riposte directed at Ferry. With its military drum beat, darkly humorous lyrics, lovely piano part, heavily distorted guitars, and multitude of vocal effects (including an Elvis impersonation by Eno), it is a tour de force in tension-building and integrating the unexpected. The loveliest song on Here Come the Warm Jets is "Some of Them Are Old," which sounds almost like late-period Beatles with its psychedelic organs and multi-tracked vocals, but what really sets the song apart is the off-kilter Hawaiian-style guitar solo that sounds like it's being played underwater. Eno's early pop-oriented solo albums are often a shock to those who are only familiar with his ambient work; however, they stand as some of the most inventive and prescient records of the Glam-era. Eno: "I'm more of a technologist, manipulating studios and musicians in a funny way. It sounds fantastic but one of the things I tried to do with Warm Jets was to bring musicians together who would normally never play together and to play a music that they couldn't agree upon. The music would come from the chemistry."
Saturday, September 3, 2011
"And curvy Lorraine always leads the way, admitting her love, it drips and drips. Something you always wanted."
When Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash began working on an informal solo-based side project in early 1982, little did he know that within a year, not only would it evolve into a group project called Tones on Tail, but it would also become his main gig, as the recording sessions for Bauhaus' then-swan song, Burning from the Inside, made it apparent that relations between Peter Murphy and the rest of the band were quickly deteriorating. After Murphy bolted to work with Mick Karn on the Dalis Car project previous to jump-starting his solo career, Ash, along with former art school buddy and ex-Bauhaus roadie Glenn Campling and Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins, decided to leave the overt Gothic theatricality of their former band behind, choosing instead to focus on a more eclectic and experimental sound. Ash: "It was a great time, reaching out to something different. It was quite liberating after Bauhaus. In the end, we wanted a different type of music and [Peter Murphy] wanted to go in a more dance direction." Campling describes the early evolution of the band: "Dan was working towards a solo project when we lived in 'digs' during the Bauhaus heydays. I was backline roadie at the time. He was recording "Instrumental" and another track which became "Copper" (featuring both of us laughing our heads off- Dan's first vocal maybe?). He invited me to contribute to an idea which eventually became "A Bigger Splash" and "Means of Escape." The ball rolled on from there. We both enjoyed the distraction." During Tones on Tail's two-year existence, they recorded one LP, Pop, and several EPs, all of which garnered critical praise for their unique and innovative mixture of neo-psych melancholy (something Ash and Haskins would explore further in Love and Rockets) with lighter, more dance-oriented elements. For example, on "Lions," the lead track on Pop, the band establishes a spectral samba effect, which joins Ash's seductively hushed vocals in creating a fine piece of moody pop that proves far more accessible than anything Bauhaus would have committed to tape. Likewise, on "Happiness," with its swinging cocktail-Jazz arrangement and playfully sarcastic lyrics, Tones on Tail prove effective at integrating a wide range of influences into a sound that, while echoing the experimental side of Bauhaus (an extremely under-appreciated aspect of the band, an example of which is the brilliant Dub effect on "Bela Lugosi's Dead"), clearly stakes out its own territory. Another instantly memorable track is "Performance," one of the darker songs on Pop. With its cheesy synth-driven opening bars that somehow manage to set up an atmosphere of dread that pervades the entire song, Campling's nervy bass-lines, and Haskins' adventurous percussion, Ash couldn't have asked for a better back-drop for one of the best, most straightforward vocal performances of his career. While Tones on Tail has never enjoyed the popularity or notoriety of Ash's more psychedelically-inclined work in Love and Rockets, it could be argued that this short-lived band not only drafted the blueprint for the latter band's sound, but did so while managing to sound far more experimental and unprecedented. Ash: " We were a motley crew of individuals who essentially wanted to sound like a band from Venus or Mars!"
Friday, September 2, 2011
Peter Hammill, who was a key member of the seminal Art-Rock group Van der Graaf Generator, is a recent obsession of mine. There are few things in life more pleasurable than discovering a brilliant new band/artist with an immense discography to get lost in. Look for a few Hammill posts in the near future.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Velvet Underground Series, #3: The Velvet Underground & Nico- Psychedelic Sounds from the Gymnasium (2008) / All Tomorrow's Parties: Remembering The Velvet Underground (1996) MP3 & FLAC
"I'm searching for my mainline. I couldn't hit it sideways. I couldn't hit it sideways,
just like Sister Ray says."
just like Sister Ray says."
Andy Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" (originally called the "Irrupting Plastic Inevitable") debuted in early April 1966 at the Open Stage, a ballroom located above the Dom Bar & Restaurant in New York City's East Village, which Warhol had rented and turned into a makeshift nightclub. Early the following year, the son of the Polish owner of the restaurant approached Warhol about opening a new club on East 71st Street called The Gymnasium in a space that had originally housed a Czechoslovakian fitness & social club and that was still filled with old gym equipment. Not unpredictably, Warhol, whose plan was to create "New York's most happening discotheque," decided to leave the equipment in the club for his patrons to use if they felt so inclined. As can be imagined, the cavernous Gymnasium was not an ideal place to play a gig; however, during the club's tenuous existence (it was in a poor location and Warhol did not have an exclusive lease), Warhol was able to attract a number of bands/musicians to play there in addition to his "proteges," The Velvet Underground, who held residency at The Gymnasium during the club's first month, more or less using the gigs to fine tune their live act for the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" (which they would play for the final time the following month). On April 30th, which was the last night of The Velvets' residency, the opening band included future Blondie guitarist Chris Stein (then a teenager): "We hung around for a little while and they played records, then we headed up for the stage. It was a big echoey place; we had absolutely no conception of playing a place like this whatsoever, but Maureen Tucker said we could use their equipment. So we plugged into their amps and the amps were all cranked up superloud [....] We must have played five or six songs and then we just gave up. By that time, the rest of The Velvets had arrived. After a while they started to play and they were like awesomely powerful [....] I was really disappointed that they didn't have Nico, because we thought she was the lead singer, but I distinctly remember the violin and their doing "Venus in Furs" because a couple of people in dark outfits got up and started doing a slow dance with a chain in between them. There were maybe thirty people there. It was very late, but it was a memorable experience."
The final night of The Velvets' residency at The Gymnasium was billed as "National Swingers Night," and at some point the fateful decision was made to capture the band's performance on reel-to-reel tape, which was a very uncommon occurrence during The Velvets' association with Warhol; what's even more surprising is that the parties concerned decided to do so in the absence of the band's "chanteuse," Nico, who had not returned from a trip to Ibiza. Psychedelic Sounds from The Gymnasium features this reel-to-reel recording (though there is some disagreement over whether it is the complete performance), and it is, quite possibly, the most important "unofficial" Velvet Underground recording in existence. This is due not only to the historic value of the recording and its surprising sonic clarity, but also to the performances, including a song that appears nowhere else in The Velvet's official and unofficial discographies: "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore." Listening to Reed's spidery guitar figure and his dark, mantra-like vocals, it's hard not to wonder how the song was never recorded in the studio, as it is easily the equal of a number of songs from both The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light / White Heat. Another gem is the first public performance of the epic "Sister Ray," whose crunchy guitar groove likely inspired Stein's description of the band that night as "awesomely powerful." Psychedelic Sounds from the Gymnasium captures The Velvet Underground at their grimy, arty best and makes pointedly clear what set this band apart both musically and lyrically. John Cale: "There was commitment there. That was the powerful advantage that all of Lou's lyrics had. All Bob Dylan was singing was questions- How many miles? and all that. I didn't want anymore questions. Give me some tough social situations and show that answers are possible."