Friday, October 28, 2011

Mo-Dettes- "White Mice" Video (1979)

Not as well-known as The Slits or The Raincoats, the Mo-Dettes were founded by Kate Korus who was a veteran of both bands. In contrast to these, the Mo-Dettes featured a punky psych-pop sound that anticipated everything from The Go-Gos to The Pandoras to The Vivian Girls, but their sound also had that early Punk vibe that their followers could never hope to equal.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Associates- The Affectionate Punch (1980) / Fourth Drawer Down (1981) / The Affectionate Punch (1982) / Sulk (1982) / Perhaps (1985) / Glamour Chase (1989) / Wild and Lonely (1990) / Radio One Sessions (1994) MP3 & FLAC

"Don't be so sure of days in advance. They might never come, praise be to chance."

Originally calling themselves Mental Torture, vocalist Billy Mackenzie and multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine formed what would eventually become The Associates in Dundee, Scotland in 1976, but it would take three years and a supreme act of hubris on the part of the young band to garner anything resembling commercial interest. This act came soon after the band's rechristening when Mackenzie and Rankine decided to record a cover of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging," which they self-released in June 1979 despite the fact that Bowie's original version had just hit the U.K. top ten two months earlier. What could have just as easily permanently dampened The Associates' prospects for gaining exposure quickly turned into a coup, as their quirky stripped-down re-interpretation of Bowie's ironic foray into Post-Punk caught the attention of many, including the thin white duke himself. What quickly ensued was a recording contract with Friction Records and a string of singles that sonically set the band apart from most of their Post-Punk peers by demonstrating a masterful ability to assimilate an eclectic range of influences into a sound that, in managing to be both minimalistic and ornately melodramatic, was nothing if not highly distinctive. Billy Mackenzie: "I had my influences, like early Roxy Music, Sparks, the whole Philly sound and jazz as well. But there were also reasonable amounts of imaginative and surprise elements to the music. I am a very good technical player, so I would pick the chords and then Alan would work with them and embellish them within the chord structure, maybe with another chord that really didn't fit. It was more of a feel thing, but with Alan's musical expertise. So in that respect, I think what we were doing was fresh. And it really wasn't calculated."

Billy Mackenzie & Alan Rankine
Produced by Mike Hedges, who had previously worked with The Cure on Seventeen Seconds, The Associates' debut, the aptly-named The Affectionate Punch, proved to be a brilliant anomaly among early Post-Punk LPs due to Mackenzie's four-octave Scott Walker-meets-Russell Mael croon and Rankine's deceptively spare Hansa-period Eno-esque arrangements, which, taken together, helped create the blueprint for the much more commercially-minded and far less musically accomplished output of the New Romantic movement. This is why it was all the more ironic when, two years later, after signing with a major (WEA), Mackenzie and Rankine decided to remix and partially re-record the album, and in doing so, dressed The Affectionate Punch in the kind of glossy synth-pop textures (albeit still very dark) favored by the New Romantics. It was to be this direction that Mackenzie would continue to follow after Rankine exited the band in 1982 following the release of what is commonly considered The Associates' masterpiece, Sulk, an endlessly ambitious, brilliantly excessive tempest of an album that is arguably among the greatest forgotten gems of the eighties. The two-year interval between the release of their debut and the release of Sulk had seen The Associates take a very unconventional turn, as they issued a series of seven singles for WEA's indie offshoot, Situation Two, instead of releasing an album. Singles such as "White Car in Germany," "A Girl Named Property," and "Message Oblique Speech" (collected on Fourth Drawer Down) found the band further indulging their Berlin Trilogy fetish while pushing beyond the limits of Post-Punk, especially in terms of Mackenzie's acrobatic vocals and the experimental production, and collectively set the stage for what was supposed to be The Associates' jump to pop-stardom but turned out instead to be a very strange fifteen minutes at the top of the charts. Alan Rankine: "In the studio, we were obsessive to the point of manic [....] Everyday was like 19 hours of work. We only stopped when we'd run out of ideas. We knew it was going to sound dense. To us, holding back in the first verse or first chorus, we just thought, 'fuck that.' It's like having a wank and not coming: what's the point? It only lasts four minutes, It's not a symphony, let's just do the fucker. Here's the verse: full on. Here's the intro: full on. Here's the chorus: no difference. The only way you could make it go uphill was down to Bill's acrobatic vocals."

The finished product, the tellingly-titled Sulk, is probably one of the most emotionally and artistically daring albums to ever make an appearance at or near the top of the U.K. pop charts. While on the surface, Sulk utilizes the same type of synth-pop sheen that was applied to the remake of The Affectionate Punch, this is really the only concession it makes to, what almost certainly had to be, the pressures exerted on the band as a result of signing with a major such as WEA. Whereas expectations at the label were likely in the direction of The Associates joining the ranks of New Romantic money-makers such as Duran Duran and ABC, Sulk steadfastly refuses to succumb to the siren's call of commercialism, instead taking the minimalist tones of Post-Punk and forcibly wedding them to watery synth-pop textures and in doing so, creating a gloomy yet strangely poppy concoction. An obvious highlight is "Party Fears Two," a song which manages to literalize the loungiest aspects of Aladdin Sane, while Mackenzie's vocals ratchet up the melodrama significantly. And on the exceedingly dark "Bap De La Bap," Mackenzie and Rankine draw from The Walker Brothers' Nite Flights to create a claustrophobic, nightmarish context for one of Mackenzie's more ominous vocal performances. Despite the willful unconventionality of Sulk, the album, largely on the strength of its more accessible singles, was a commercial success, which caught the attention of Sire Records' Seymour Stein, who was convinced the band could be just as successful, if not more so, in the U.S. Rankine, however, in a dispute over the band's post-Sulk direction, decided to cut ties with Mackenzie on the eve of the Sulk tour, effectively ending The Associates' brief flirtation with mainstream success. While Mackenzie went on to record several albums under The Associates moniker, these efforts, while showcasing his peerless vocal ability and resistance to commercial concerns, suffered greatly from the absence of Rankine's distinct musical touch and from record label incompetence (one album, The Glamour Chase, was never even released). While it is tempting to remember The Associates as a stubbornly original band who were never able to live up to their considerable potential, according to Mackenzie, living up to the expectations of others was never of any interest to the band: "In 1982, after Sulk, me and Alan could have easily took the U2 route, and become extremely successful [....] I could espouse that type of rock element but it was distasteful [....] Also, there's something vulgar about success."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Associates- "Those First Impressions" Video (1984)

One of the most unique bands to emerge out of the initial Post-Punk melee, this video catches The Associates in New Romantic mode, but Billy Mackenzie's voice is one for the ages no matter what the context. Everything you could ever want from this band is coming soon...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mazzy Star Returns from the Semi-Dead

Hello everyone,

It's been fifteen years since Mazzy Star last released an album (1996's Among My Swan), and during that time, rumors have circulated every so often about recording sessions, new record deals, aborted albums, re-unions, etc. While David Roback and Hope Sandoval have played live shows together from time to time (most notably in 2000 and 2008-2009), no new Mazzy Star material has ever seen the light of day. However, their latest announcement (October 17) indicates a new single, "Common Burn / Lay Myself Down," will be released at the end of the month, with an album to follow at some point. To hear a small snippet from "Common Burn," click here. Pretty exciting news, but let's hope this legendarily mercurial and hermetical band doesn't decide to pull the plug before the release date (stranger things have been known to happen!).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter- Reckless Burning (2002) / Oh, My Girl (2004) MP3 & FLAC

"Pretty thing, I've got you, right where I used to be. We ride across this city, 
starting fires recklessly."

Jesse Sykes: "I met Phil Wandscher in 1998 in a dive bar back when Seattle still had dive bars (how I miss those times!). I think I knew instantly upon meeting him that my life would change forever- just a gut feeling I guess, but I was right!" At the time of this fortuitous meeting, Sykes had just seen both her music career and personal life take a dark turn, as Hominy, the band she had started with her then-husband Jim Sykes, quickly dissolved following the release of their eponymous debut album, and it wasn't long before their marriage suffered a similar fate. Wandscher was best known as one of the founding members of Whiskeytown, the brilliantly combustive Alt-Country band from Raleigh N.C. that also featured Ryan Adams, who, during a legendary 1997 meltdown at a show in Kansas City, fired the entire band, including Wandscher, telling the stunned crowd, "You've just saw the last fuckin' Whiskeytown show!" before proceeding to smash his guitar and storm off stage. Ousted from the band he had helped create, Wandscher, thoroughly disillusioned, drifted to Seattle and was working in a restaurant when he crossed paths with Jesse Sykes. Both nursing emotional wounds, a romance sparked immediately, but their musical partnership was something that evolved at a more measured pace. Sykes: "Phil was really reluctant to work with, well, his girlfriend [....] But it just kinda morphed anyway; it was inevitable. People will warn you, but I like working with someone you're in a relationship with. There's a greater level of intimacy and trust [....] and when you're sleeping with someone, it's actually a lot easier to say 'fuck you' or 'that's a shitty song.'" After initially gigging around Seattle as a duo, Sykes and Wandscher decided to assemble a full band, and, after doing so, quickly garnered enough critical praise for their languidly dark approach to psych-laced Americana that they were soon signed by indie label Devil in the Woods, allowing them to immediately set about recording their debut LP, Reckless Burning.

Jesse Sykes
 Sykes: "I like to refer to that time of my life as 'the reckless burning years.' It was less about making that record than it was learning how to just 'be.' Two estranged people going into lonely dark places- beautiful places. All we had was each other. We didn't even talk that much but somehow we just knew each other's story. That record was our story." Powerfully conveying the bitter pain and foggy, desolate spaces of emotional loss, Reckless Burning is clearly indebted to certain aspects of traditional Appalachian music, but the laconic darkness of Wandscher's noirish guitar-work and Sykes' bewitchingly distinctive alto subtly and quietly push the music into dreamy regions more commonly associated with psych-rock. Nowhere is this more evident than on the stunningly mournful title track, a song often compared to The Cowboy Junkies, but in truth, walks fifty paces further into unmitigated darkness than anything the Timmons siblings would be capable of committing to tape (okay, maybe with the exception of "Sweet Jane"). And while the song charts a slow descent into the numbness of emotional resignation, conveyed unforgettably through the lyrics and Sykes' world-weary vocals, it ends where such pain always ends, in abject ambiguity, as an equally dreamy rendition of "Goodnight Irene" brings "Reckless Burning" to its conclusion. Another standout track, "Don't Let Me Go," uses a slightly brighter country-influenced arrangement to counter-balance the song's dark emotional subject matter, weaving a subtle sense of irony into the song's overall tone. Sykes: "When I sat down and started playing some of the original songs that later became Reckless Burning, it just felt like he [Wandscher] was building the house that the songs lived in [....] He gave them the visual, cinematic aspect that they needed. He would create these little vignettes within the song- that other character answering back to my vocals [....] It's almost like I never had to articulate my vision to him; it became intact and fully realized as soon as he started playing on the songs. We're just hard wired into the same muse." As in the dream-state itself, Reckless Burning and its equally gorgeous follow-up, Oh, My Girl, take familiar elements and by re-arranging and re-imagining them, create something uncannily meaningful, a sound that charts the darkest interstices of the human heart while managing to feel both timeless and new.

Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter- "Hushed by Devotion" / "Come to Mary" / "Your Own Kind" / "Wooden Roses" (2011) Live at KEXP- Full Performance

An amazing full performance from one of my favorite bands. A Jesse Sykes post is coming up next...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Heaven 17- "Let Me Go" Video (1983)

One of the best and most underrated synth bands of the early eighties. Anyone know where they got their name?

The Church Series, #1: The Church- Starfish (1988) Deluxe Edition (Bonus Disc) MP3 & FLAC

"The pursuit of adulation is your butter and your bread; it's an exquisite corpse and its lips are red, and its teeth are glistening."

The Church's fourth album, Heyday, released in 1986, was a pivotal experience for the band, as it marked the first time they had attempted to write an album collectively (previous to this, Steve Kilbey had served as the primary song-writer), and they did so despite the fact that going in to the recording sessions, the band was on the verge of disintegration. Steve Kilbey: "I think we released a few dud records that weren't as good as they should have been, after The Blurred Crusade, the band was just drifting along in a sea of apathy. I was writing not-so-good songs and the band wasn't playing them very well, so everyone's enthusiasm just waned." While the process of creating Heyday gave The Church a creative second-wind, the album failed to break through commercially; as a result, the band was unceremoniously jettisoned by their record label, EMI. As Kilbey recalls, "One day [...] I went into EMI and met the big chief who was this big fat fellow with a gold chain around his neck [....] I don't think he had ever thought about the Church before and suddenly he became aware of this irritating little mosquito that was on his label. About a week later the call came through: 'your album has been postponed indefinitely.'" At this point, the various members of The Church decided to go their own separate ways, several intending to focus on solo projects; however, when they quite unexpectedly garnered major-label interest in the U.S. from Arista in early 1987, they quickly decided to reform the band. As The Church had consistently enjoyed more commercial success abroad than at home in Australia, Arista pushed for the band to record their next album, Starfish, in Los Angeles with a couple of well-known session guitarists/engineers/producers, Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi, who, with résumés filled with names such as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, and Fleetwood Mac, seemed, at the time, a strange fit for a group of Aussie psych-rockers with a taste for the esoteric.

Steve Kilbey
Kilbey: "I really do like the random element of doing things and when these guys were suggested, I liked the idea that anything could happen. The Church recording in Los Angeles with these guys was a ridiculous concept. I mean Waddy Wachtel is this long-haired, sort of Furry Freak Brother, and Greg Ladanyi was a complete unknown. But somehow it worked." However, the Starfish sessions were contentious from the start; as Kilbey describes it, "It was Australian hippies versus West Coast guys who know the way they like to do things. We were a bit more undisciplined than they would have liked." Reportedly there were bitter clashes over guitar sounds and Wachtel's insistence that the band master techniques they had previously avoided; at one point, Wachtel even had Kilbey take some vocal lessons. The band's distaste for living in L.A. also affected the sessions. Kilbey: "The Church came to L.A. and really reacted against the place because none of us liked it [....] All the billboards, conversations I'd overhear, TV shows, everything that was happening to us was going into the music." Despite the difficult circumstances surrounding its birth, Starfish represented a huge step forward for the band, not only in terms of refining their sound by introducing some minimalism into the mix, but also in terms of honing their musicianship. Kilbey: "Seven years ago, if someone had asked me if I would ever get better at singing, playing bass, and writing songs, I would have gone, 'No I know everything about it. I've reached excellence and now I'll continue to maintain it.' What I realize now is that I don't know much at all, and I hope I'll continue to improve."

What had made The Church's previous album, Heyday, so distinctive was its orchestrated sound, as producer Peter Walsh had made liberal use of multi-tracking instruments and vocals to lend the album its oceanic depth and ethereal textures. In contrast, on Starfish, Wachtel & Ladanyi spent the better part of a month rehearsing the band before entering the studio in an effort pare their sound down to its essential guitar-based core, an approach The Church would embrace to varying degrees until guitarist Peter Koppes exited the band in 1993. Though the band voiced its concerns about the album sounding too spare, it did manage to capture their live sound to a far greater degree than previous albums. Marty Willson-Piper: "It's really strange that this album is more obscure yet more commercial; it's gentler but harder sounding. Basically it's a guitar album. See, the band live has this soaring energy, a much harder edge than we have been recorded, and I told them [Wachtel & Ladanyi] that that's what we wanted in the studio this time." While The Church's only hit single, "Under the Milky Way" recalls the esoteric lushness of previous albums, songs such as "Blood Money," "North, South, East and West," and "Reptile" reveal a much more muscular though still highly melodic guitar-dominated approach. While these songs are all quite strong and memorable, the most distinct tracks are the album's slower numbers such as "Destination," Lost," and the gorgeous guitar waltz "Antenna," a song featuring Kilbey's new-found vocal prowess. Kilbey: "I wanted The Church to build a snakey, slimey feel because one thing I want to kill forever with this album is 'paisley mop-tops play jingle-jangle music.' It was great in 1981 but it just isn't where I'm at anymore. I really want to get into this evil, nastier sort of theme."

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Church- "Under the Milky Way" Video (1988)

Well, after much delay, I am finally ready to start the Church series. The first post is up next...

Paisley Underground Series #26: The Long Ryders- Native Sons (1984) / 10-5-60 (1983) MP3 & FLAC

"Well my daddy rode the train to take him to the factory where he slaved eatin' shit
to save my mama and me."

While Uncle Tupelo is commonly credited with spearheading the rise of the Alt-Country movement (referred to in some quarters as "No Depression") that flourished throughout the nineties, its true origins can be traced back to a number of Los Angeles-based cow-punk bands that inhabited the margins of the Paisley Underground scene during the early eighties. Bands such as Tex and The Horseheads, Blood on the Saddle, The Beat Farmers, Rank and File and many others helped pioneer the unique fusion of Country music and Punk that would profoundly inform bands like Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and Whiskeytown a decade later; however, no cow-punk band was more influential or as talented as The Long Ryders who integrated influences such as Gram Parsons, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield into a harder-edged Punk-tinged sound. The seeds for what eventually became The Long Ryders were sown in an uber-obscure and militantly retro Los Angeles garage-psych band called The Unclaimed, which Sid Griffin had joined in 1978 after tiring of the then-nascent Punk scene. However, Griffin soon felt trapped by the band's unwillingness to broaden their mid-sixties aesthetic and consequently left in late 1981 to form the nucleus of what would quickly evolve into The Long Ryders, which early on included Steve Wynn who soon left to form The Dream Syndicate. Fatefully, the band's formation coincided with the beginnings of the Los Angeles-based pysch-rock revival that eventually (and quite reductively) came to be known as the Paisley Underground, a scene that actually featured an eclectic mix of bands that were linked together more through strong friendships and an ethos of mutual support than any sense of a shared musical approach.

The Long Ryders in paisley period gear
Sid Griffin: "There was tremendous sharing in those days. At first everyone was on equal footing and then some bands became rather possessive and a bit more private but the Long Ryders were always looking at things from a socialist perspective. People shared amps, guitars, worked for other bands [...] Steve Wynn put out the early Green on Red album, I worked doing merch for several bands, Matt Piucci of Rain Parade became a kinda guitar roadie if you needed help like that and the Bangles sang back up on a lot of other people's records. Many of the bills of the day were three of these bands all at once. Perhaps Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, something like that." The early days of The Long Ryders featured several lineup changes, but their debut EP, 10-5-60, produced by former Sparks guitarist Earl Mankey, established the band as peerless exponents of the kind of country-infused Jangle-Pop The Byrds were doing in their post-Sweetheart of the Rodeo incarnation. Starting with the stellar Griffin-penned jangle rave-up "Join My Gang," a song that might actually be better than a good percentage of the material many claim it to be emulating, and also featuring the raucous title track, a Garage-Rock holdover from Griffin's days in The Unclaimed, 10-5-60 finds the band on the precipice of greatness.

Following the release of 10-5-60, the band's bass player, Des Brewer, jumped ship to resume his career as a longshoreman, which apparently appealed to him more than touring; as a result, Tom Stevens, who at the time was working at a record store, joined The Long Ryders, thus ushering in the band's classic line-up. Having recently signed to Frontier Records, the band entered the studio with producer Henry Lewy whose résumé included the first two Flying Burrito Brothers LPs, and the result, their first full LP, Native Sons, represents a step away from the occasionally literalistic approach of 10-5-60 and step towards something approximating what Gram Parsons once described as Cosmic American Music. Tom Stevens: "From the start, The Long Ryders were all about hybrids of pure American styles of music, as mostly defined by 60s bands, both rock and country. That all distilled through skilled songwriting into more of the classic style that you hear on Native Sons [....] I think at the time The Long Ryders were at the very height of their songwriting powers, and ability to naturally hybrid cool styles into a single form." From the opening track, "Final Wild Son," a snarling paisley update of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," to "Wreck of the 809," a psych-drenched version of R.E.M.-style Jangle-Pop, to the brilliant single, "I Had a Dream," a song that manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with the band's formidable influences (Griffin's vocals can't help but recall Gene Clark) and to lay out a sonic blueprint that would keep Jeff Tweedy busy for the better part of a decade, Native Sons stands as The Long Ryders' masterpiece, as their next album and major-label debut, State of Our Union, despite containing a number of stellar songs, would suffer a bit by comparison due to its overly-polished production. Drummer Greg Sowders: "we wanted to control our own art and it was just a very do-it-yourself attitude that we learned from the punks. But ultimately we thought punk rock in L.A.- I do kind of exclude X because they were very musical- but a lot of them really sucked [....] But that do-it-yourself attitude and the "we want to control everything ourselves and deal directly with the fans"- that's what we learned from the punks. Plus, we liked to play our songs kinda fast."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

R.I.P. We Like It Lossless!

Hello everyone,

I am very sad to report that the We Like It Lossless! blog is no longer with us. It was deleted by Google Blogger earlier today. The blog's administrator, JFK has started a new blog in the spirit of WLIL!. To visit and show your support, click on the link below:

I am deeply saddened because the internet's best resource for electronic music is gone and also because WLIL! was instrumental in helping me grow (La) luna and Plastic Palace People into the amazing blogs they are today. We all see ourselves as a big family where each member supports all the others (which reminds me: hey HFS40000, how about a blogroll???), and to lose one of our family members stings like hell. Part of maintaining a lossless music blog is to face the reality that each morning, you may wake up and find your beautiful blog obliterated by Google. I have taken steps to back up (La) luna just in case, and I will work on doing the same for Plastic Palace People. 

I also wanted to thank all of you once again for being such loyal and wonderful reader/members; it is truly appreciated. You may have noticed that I have been posting less frequently on (La) luna, and this is due to my present workload and a personal crisis that I'm working through. I appreciate your patience. I have many great posts and reviews planned. I'll have a paisley post up tonight.

One last request: please click the "join" button if you haven't done so already. We're almost at 300!!!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bert Jansch- S/T (1965) / It Don't Bother Me (1965) / Jack Orion (1966) MP3 & FLAC -Rest in Peace-

"No girl I've loved has ever held me down. No reason can I give for leaving this town. My love is true now, my love is true, but the road is long; I've got to see my journey through."

One of the most important figures to emerge from the British Folk movement of the sixties and early seventies, Bert Jansch was unparalleled in his combination of technical virtuosity, eclectic influences and brilliant compositional skills. As former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr has suggested, Jansch's considerable influence extends well beyond the folk music genre that he so profoundly transformed: "He completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequaled today. Without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the '60s and '70s would have been very different. You hear him in Nick Drake, Pete Townsend, Donovan, The Beatles, Jimmy Page, and Neil Young." As a teenager in mid-fifties Edinburgh, Jansch quickly developed his love and knowledge of Folk music by hanging around a local club called The Howff (Gaelic for "meeting place") that featured local Folk musicians, and it was here that he made a fateful connection. Jansch: "A school friend had said there was a pub up the high street in Edinburgh and that I should check it out because he knows I was interested in the guitar. We both went up there and we took lessons from a girl called Jill Doyle. Fortunately for me she was the sister of Davey Graham, who is my all-time hero when it comes to the guitar. So, I mean from that point on, I sort of bypassed The Beatles and all that." Eventually, after having decided that music was his true calling, Jansch quit his day job as a nurseryman and entered a two-year period where slept on the couches of various friends and acquaintances by day and played an endless string of one night stands on the British folk club scene by night. This experience served as his musical apprenticeship, as he met and learned from many seminal British folk musicians along the way, such as Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and Anne Briggs.

Davey Graham
No one influenced Jansch's quickly evolving technical prowess on guitar as much as Davey graham, a prodigiously talented musician whose virtuosity on the acoustic guitar was only matched by his infamously mercurial nature; for example, there is an often-told anecdote about how, sometime during the late sixties, Graham was on a flight to Australia where he was booked for a tour; evidently, the flight had a one hour layover in Bombay, during which Graham spontaneously decided to abandon the tour in order to go on a six month walkabout through India. Graham's unquenchable thirst for exploring different cultures and absorbing elements of their folk traditions into his guitar playing rubbed off on the young Jansch; from 1963-1965, in emulation of his idol, Jansch traveled abroad in order to live the life of a busker, hitchhiking from town to town and country to country, finally ending up in Tangiers, where he was repatriated back to England after coming down with dysentery.  However, after returning to London where there was a burgeoning Folk music scene, Jansch's fortunes took a turn for the better, as he soon met Bill Leader, an engineer and producer who helped Jansch make the home reel-to-reel recordings that would comprise his first album. In addition, London provided Jansch with a community of innovative Folk guitarists, such as his idol Davey Graham and John Renbourn, who welcomed him into their ranks.

Bert Jansch in the mid-sixties
Recorded in Jansch's apartment using a single microphone and several borrowed guitars (amazingly, he didn't even own an instrument at this point), Bert Jansch, released in 1965 on a small Folk label called Transatlantic, instantaneously catapulted its creator into the forefront of the London Folk scene, a rarity among Folk albums in the sense that it was comprised mostly of original material, which inevitably saddled Jansch with the troublesome "next Bob Dylan" moniker until, a short time later, the title was handed over to Donovan, who, ironically covered a number of Jansch's songs. Despite such reductive labels, the album was nothing less than a game-changer due to Jansch's deft and dynamic finger-style technique and his already-advanced song-writing ability; its influence was felt far and wide, as Neil Young recalls, "as for acoustic guitar, Bert Jansch is on the same level as Jimi. That first record of his is epic. It came from England, and I was especially taken with 'The Needle of Death,' such a beautiful and angry song. That guy was so good [...] and years later, on On the Beach, I wrote the melody of "Ambulance Blues" by styling the guitar part completely on 'The Needle of Death.' I wasn't even aware of it."

Despite recording mostly original material, Jansch was able to issue a quick follow-up to his successful debut, a testament to his prodigious talent and the result of a considerable backlog of songs from his days of busking and one-nighters. His first turn in a professional recording studio (Pye Studios to be exact) produced  It Don't Bother Me, which, while not as consistently brilliant or as dark as his debut, featured Jansch broadening his approach a bit by occasionally utilizing banjo instead of acoustic guitar and by bringing in additional musicians such as John Renbourn and Roy Harper. In addition to introducing Jansch as a major talent on acoustic guitar, these early albums also evidenced something else that set him apart from many of his Folk-guitar peers: his singing voice. Although he was by no means a gifted vocalist, unlike some of the other major figures on the London Folk scene, such as Davey Graham, John Renbourn, and Wizz Jones, Jansch's mournfully fractured croon was instantly recognizable and highly emotive. He would take his impressive skills to a new level on his next album, Jack Orion, whose all-covers approach bore the imprint of Anne Briggs who had been teaching Jansch traditional Folk songs to re-interpret through his unique Jazz-Blues aesthetic. The result, while not generally considered as essential as Jansch's first two albums, is a peerless example of late-sixties progressive British Folk, whose epic title track ranks with Jansch's best moments on tape. Another standout is "Blackwaterside," whose distinctive rolling, stop-start melody was pinched, virtually note for note, by Jimmy Page for inclusion on Led Zeppelin's debut as "Black Mountainside." While Transatlantic Records wanted to pursue legal action against Page, Jansch's response to the situation was entirely what one would expect from such a modest master: "I was just a singer and a guitar player. It was the record company who was suing for breach of copyright. It's got nothing to do with me." Rest in peace Bert. You will certainly be missed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Long Ryders- "I Had a Dream" Video (1984)

An absolutely scorching piece of Byrds-meet-Punk brilliance. Incidentally, this video (The Long Ryders' first by the way) was filmed in my hometown.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Terry Manning- Home Sweet Home (1970) MP3 & FLAC

"I got a Mazerati GT with the snakeskin upholstery. I got a charge account at Goldsmith,
but I ain't got you."

As a teenager, Terry Manning emigrated from El Paso (where he had played in several bands with Bobby Fuller of "I Fought the Law" fame) to Memphis and somehow talked Stax Records producer and master session guitarist Steve Cropper into making him an assistant engineer at the legendary label after having simply walked in off the street one day. Manning quickly became a mainstay at Stax, going from sweeping up and making tape copies to gaining a reputation as a sought after engineer and producer in a matter of only a few years. The extent of his reputation can be gleaned from the list of artists whose best albums he had a hand in shaping, including Ike & Tina Turner, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, and The Box Tops (to only name a few). As many of Stax's recordings were cut and mixed at neighboring Ardent Studios owned and operated by John Fry, Manning became a fixture there as well, eventually leading Fry to make him the studio's first official employee by hiring him to be Ardent's chief engineer and manager. Terry Manning: "Neither studio had a problem with this arrangement [....] In the musical sense, Memphis was fairly isolated [...] Its music style was homegrown, even though technically we were trying to emulate the big boys in London, New York and Los Angeles. Musically, Stax was doing what it liked, and together with Ardent we were just one big happy family of people wanting to do music." During this time, Manning was also an active participant in the local Memphis music scene, playing in various bands and befriending many of the musicians who would later craft, with the help of Manning and Fry's willingness to give them free access to Ardent's state-of-the-art recording equipment, the Power-Pop sound that characterized early-seventies Ardent bands such as Big Star, The Hot Dogs and Cargoe.

During a 1968 recording session with The Box Tops, Manning, known as a relentless prankster in the studio, decided to play a joke on one of the songwriters, Eddie Hinton, who had been brought in to furnish the band with material (The Box Tops were not generally allowed by their handlers to record their own songs). Hinton had written a less than stellar piece of Southern boogie called "Choo Choo Train," which he insisted was a perfect fit for Alex Chilton. Less than convinced and also intent on taking a piss out one of Chilton's overly-controlling handlers, Manning, late one night after everyone had left the studio, recorded a heavily ironic, brilliantly over-the-top psych version of the song. After playing the song the next day for producer Dan Penn, Hinton and Chilton, everyone enjoyed it as the joke it was intended to be; however, Stax producer Al Bell, seeing more than just a joke, asked Manning to record an entire album's worth of songs. The result was to be Terry Manning's lone album, Home Sweet Home- on one level, a tongue-in-cheek send up of any number of sixties-era rock cliches, but on another level, a brilliant pastiche of Psychedelia, rockabilly and Stax-style R&B that at times anticipates many of the hallmarks that came to define Memphis-style Power-Pop during the early seventies. For example, on the Johnny Cash cover, "Guess Things Happen That Way," Manning combines exaggerated Elvis-style vocals with a proto-Big Star Power-Pop arrangement that features one of Chris Bell's first moments on tape. Another standout, "Trashy Dog," also featuring Bell, is perhaps the silliest moment on Home Sweet Home; nevertheless, it also manages to be a fine piece of disposable Memphis Soul pop that bears more than a passing resemblance to Big Star's "Mod Lang." Home Sweet Home is an odd listening experience because despite the considerable doses of irony-laced irreverence that punctuate every song, it also reveals itself to be an important chapter in the evolution of the Ardent Power-Pop sound, as Manning, while working on his solo record, was also helping Chris Bell record tracks for Rock City, the band that would soon evolve into Big Star with the arrival of Alex Chilton.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bert Jansch / Ralph McTell- "Moonshine" (1975) Live Television Performance

While all the headlines are going on about the death of Steve Jobs, today saw another death that is far more significant to me- perhaps the greatest folk guitarist I've ever heard, Bert Jansch. Rest in peace Bert, I've learned much from you and you will be greatly missed.

The Slits- "Typical Girls" Video (1979)

Dubby post-punk madness- one of my all-time favorite "girl groups"

Monday, October 3, 2011

Velvet Underground Series, #5: Lou Reed & John Cale- Songs for Drella (1990) / Songs for Drella: Live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, 1989 (1990) / Songs for Drella: A Work in Progress, St. Ann's Church, NYC, Jan. 7-8, 1989 (Bootleg) MP3 & FLAC

"My skin's as pale as an outdoors moon, my hair's silver like a Tiffany watch. I like lots of people around me, but don't kiss hello and please don't touch."

Throughout the four and a half decades that Lou Reed and John Cale have known each other, their relationship has had few constants other than its consistently tempestuous nature, something that was evident from the very beginning. When they were initially introduced in 1964, Reed was working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records (a job he has since likened to being "a poor man's Carole King"), writing commercially-oriented pop songs by day while exploring more experimental forms of songcraft (such as an early version of "Heroin") by night. The classically-trained Cale had recently arrived from London armed with a sponsorship from Aaron Copeland and plans to further his music education with American uber-elite avant-garde composers such as John Cage and La mont Young, and almost immediately, Cale was invited to play viola in Young and Tony Conrad's drone-oriented ensemble Theater of Eternal Music aka the Dream Syndicate. While Cale was none too impressed with Reed's lack of polish as a musician, he both admired and related to Reed's experimentalist tendencies, which took the form of alternate guitar tunings, droning effects, and lyrics that were both graphic and literary. They also discovered a mutual disdain for conventional artistic expression. John Cale on his first impressions of Lou Reed: "He seemed extremely vulnerable and with a very visceral sense of claiming his identity, in that it seemed like his identity was really clear when attacking things. And not that there was an ingrained hostility to everything on Earth, but I guess that's a common trait in many people that they think the best way to define themselves is to really attack, and this unnerving and psychologically disturbing persona was struggling to have an artistic expression, that was being stifled by this confusion between his surroundings and himself. This description could very well apply to myself as well [...] trying to find a role in classical music that really had anything to do with the outside world was certainly not clear in my mind."

John Cale
After recruiting Sterling Morrison, a former college roommate of Reed's, and Angus MacLise (later be replaced by Moe Tucker), an avant-garde percussionist whom Cale had met while playing in Theater of Eternal Music, Reed and Cale briefly formed a band called The Primitives; however, when Tony Conrad turned the band on to a book about the sexual subculture of the early sixties called The Velvet Underground, the band instantly adopted the name, recognizing a thematic continuity with the increasingly dark subject matter of Reed's lyrics (he had just written "Venus in Furs") and feeling that it was also evocative of underground cinema. While Reed and Cale were more than happy to accept the patronage of Andy Warhol after being "discovered" while playing a tourist trap called Cafe Bizarre, their time under Warhol's tutelage saw them become increasingly antagonistic over the direction of the band. Reed, being The Velvet Underground's primary songwriter, kept the band, whether intentionally or not, somewhat grounded in recognizable pop song structures even if they did have a strict "no blues" policy. Cale, as the band's other creative force who, musically, was far more experimental and technically proficient, functioned like a foil to Reed's singer-songwriter approach. This set up a tense intra-band dynamic that was responsible for both their unparalleled sound on the first two albums and, at least to some degree, Cale's exit from The Velvet Underground in fall 1968.

Lou Reed in the Mid-Seventies
Cale's dismissal from The Velvet Underground has been cloaked in mystery for decades, as all parties concerned have steadfastly refused to reveal any particulars about what actually took place; however, a close friend of Robert Quine, Reed's guitarist during much of the eighties, has offered some insight: "Lou told Quine that the reason why he had to get rid of Cale in the band was that Cale's ideas were just too out there [....] Cale had some wacky ideas. He wanted to record the next album with the amplifiers underwater, and [Lou] just couldn't have it. He was trying to make the band more accessible." One of the unfortunate effects of Reed's decision was that for nearly two decades, he and Cale had very little contact, with the 1972 Bataclan concert with Nico as the only notable exception. It wasn't until the untimely deaths of both Warhol and Nico in the late eighties that Reed and Cale renewed their working relationship. It was the artist Julian Schnabel who first suggested that Cale should do some kind of requiem for his former mentor Warhol. In fact, Cale was hard at work on an all-instrumental composition dedicated to Warhol when he and Reed crossed paths again in 1988 and decided to set about working on a Warhol-related project called Songs for Drella, "Drella" (a contraction of Dracula and Cinderella) being a nickname given to Warhol in the mid-sixties by Factory regular Ondine (actor Robert Olivo).

Warhol and his band of Velvets
John Cale in 1989: "When we started playing together last May, it began as just the two of us having fun throwing ideas around [....] Gradually it turned into songwriting. It was a great opportunity to pick up the threads of The Velvet Underground and draw our original ideas about arrangements and subject matter to a conclusion. Obviously we're bringing a lot of baggage to the project, but we are doing it with a lot of love. Andy was an incredibly generous spirit." Lou Reed: "We tape everything we do [...] Musically, we begin with simple chord progressions to which John adds his Welsh riffs. The lyrics are a reflection of everything we talk about. Each of us has a notebook filled with ideas. I'm the official typist." What resulted from this collaboration was a multi-perspective song-cycle exploring many of the events and inter-personal relationships that defined Warhol's life. After playing several unadorned live shows under the title, Songs for Drella: A Work in Progress, the pair entered the studio to record the album, a process that by all accounts revived old animosities and creative tensions, leading Cale to vow that he would never work with Reed again (although he would soon renege on this claim when the original version of The Velvets would briefly reform in 1993).

Upon its release, Songs for Drella was met with a series of tepid critical reviews, most expressing disappointment that the album didn't sound more like The Velvet Underground, but such expectations were missing the point: on Songs for Drella, the narrative takes center stage, while the spartan arrangements, comprised of guitar, piano, keyboards, viola, & vox, though largely modest and unobtrusive, add greatly to the considerable emotional power of the songs, which is one of the reasons that, in the twenty years since its release, the album has come to be considered one the best post-Velvet Underground recordings by either Reed or Cale. One reason for this is that there is an intensely personal feel to many of the songs, something that helps the album, even though it is subtitled A Fiction, avoid any trace of romanticization or idealization in reference to Warhol despite the, at times, theatrical approach, a prime example of which is the opening song, "Smalltown," an ironically bouncy stage number that touches on the origins of Warhol's prodigious sense of ambition. Lou Reed: "'Small Town,' the first number, seemed the way to ease into the show, because we thought, 'people are bringing a lot of notions to this show before we ever play a note. How can we get their toes in the water without smacking them over the head, and before we let the electric instruments go as far as they're going to go?' It seemed like that little cabaret number was the thing that answered that. I think it disarms you a bit; it's not what anyone expected." One of the most beautiful and affecting moments in the song-cycle is "Open House," which features Reed describing, from Warhol's perspective, the bitter loneliness of the artist's early days in NYC before he had made his indelible mark on the New York art scene, a narrative for which Reed's wryly vulnerable, understated vocals are perfectly suited. On Cale's songs, his stately vocal-style tends to portray Warhol, whether by design or accident, in a slightly more glamorous light; thus, when it came to one of the centerpieces of the album, "A Dream," a long spoken-word narrative based on Warhol's diaries, Reed and Cale fought bitterly over which narrative voice to use, Reed favoring the "warts and all" approach. Songs for Drella concludes with one of Reed's finest moments on tape, "Hello It's Me," a painfully honest confession of guilt, anger, and loss that not only reveals his deep admiration and complicated love for Warhol, but also reveals something about what has made Reed so special in his own right: "I really miss you, I really miss your mind. I haven't heard ideas like that in such a long, long time. I loved to watch you draw and watch you paint, but when I saw you last I turned away." Goodnight Andy.