Monday, January 21, 2008

Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co., 1970-1973 and LIKE A DUCK TO WATER

Earthquack, 1973; reissued by Cuneiform; available

5 tracks, 66:26

Earthquack, 1976; reissued by Cuneiform; available

7 tracks, 62:17

These two releases constitute some of the most important early electronic music. Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. was intended to be the first all-synthesizer ensemble. I'm leaving that issue well enough alone, except to say the odds are most certainly in their favor for that claim. The main importance lies in the music presented on these two discs and their desire to bring the sounds of electronic music to the masses. The trio initially consisted of composers David Borden and Steve Drews on Moogs and electric pianist Linda Fisher. Borden was Bob Moog's guinea pig during the development of the Moog synthesizer. All you electronic fans owe this man a huge thank you, for he was an important part of making the synthesizer user-friendly. Three of the tracks on 1970-1973 were originally released as an LP in '73; the remaining two tracks saw the light of day on this reissue. Drews composed two out of the five tracks, the remaining three being Borden's creations (Oddly enough, Mother Mallard was originally intended as a sort of minimalism cover band; however, all their recordings consist of original compositions). The material never displays its age; "Cloudscape For Peggy" and "Easter" could easily be passed off as early Orb or Aphex Twin. "Train" is the only track that clocks in at under twelve minutes (at a mere seven minutes!); "Easter" is a mammoth nineteen minutes and twenty-three seconds. The timeless Moog sounds and intricate compositions are a real eye-opener. "Music" even makes use of a looped vocal sample ("music music music...."), pointing very far forward to much later techno. Despite the limited technology (Moogs were still monophonic back then), these tracks are extraordinarily intricate and warm, with far more humanity behind them than Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream ever had. Based on the debut salvo alone, Mother Mallard should be worshipped by acolytes of the Cult Of Techno/Drum'n'Bass/Ambient/whatever electronic genre you can imagine. Yes, it's THAT good.
However, the best was just around the corner! Circa 1974, Linda Fisher parted amicably with Borden and Drews, and new electric pianist Judy Borsher stepped in. She is featured on all seven tracks of LIKE A DUCK TO WATER. Drews also takes over the bulk of the credit on this one; he has five compositions to Borden's two. The original LP consisted of Drews' "Oleo Strut" and "Waterwheel" and Borden's massive "C-A-G-E Part II". "Waterwheel" in particular is breathtaking; truly sounding like its title, this is a ten-minute piece of sheer beauty, with cascading ripples of sound and a propulsive bass pulse. "Oleo Strut" is similar, but has its own distinct identity, and is a perfect companion piece to "Waterwheel". "C-A-G-E Part II" (obviously named in tribute to John Cage) is a twenty-minute leviathan, based around the notes/pitches that make up the title. This piece is a great bit of minimalism, ranking with the best of the (unfairly) better-known minimalists' work. The remaining four tracks are very worthwhile as well; Borden's "All Set" and Drews' "Downtown" and "Theme From After The Fall" are great examples of shorter-form minimalism, and Drews' "Harpsichord Truck" makes for a pleasantly lighthearted coda to the album.
On their own, each of these albums is a classic landmark of electronic music. Together they form a whole hidden chapter in electronic music's short history. Don't let the recording dates scare you; there is absolutely nothing primitive about Mother Mallard's sound. I heartily recommend both to fans of any synth-based music, minimalism junkies, ambient connoisseurs, and adherents of the spacier realms of Krautrock/kosmische musik. Cuneiform has the full tracks "Downtown" and "Trains" to preview here, along with several of Borden's post-Mother Mallard releases (which also come highly recommended):
Postscript: If you're hooked, there is an additional CD released by Arbiter which contains "The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint" parts one and three (including a chorus in addition to the synths) and "C-A-G-E Part III". This also comes highly recommended. Also check out .

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Static Disposal, 1976; reissued by Anopheles; available

21 tracks, 76:42

The cover alone should tell you the world wasn't quite ready for Debris'. Being a post-punk band in a pre-punk world, they really had the odds against them. Sure, there were similar contemporaries like Pere Ubu and MX 80 Sound, but those bands sound tame in comparison. Imagine the Stooges jamming with Chrome with some guests from the New York No Wave scene and you have a good idea of how this sounds. Seriously deranged synths and pounding drums collide with Echo-Plexed guitar and way-out vocals, sometimes accompanied by everything from woodblocks to a circular saw. Opening track "One Way Spit" is pretty indicative; the track opens with what sounds like a madman counting down (out of beat!), followed by a guitar line straight out of FUN HOUSE. Then the synth comes in with all its bleepy-UFO glory. "Female Tracks" features female vocals reciting the definitions of "female" and "tracks" over another dadaist splurge. "Witness" is an almost jazzy spoken word number with Christian lyrics (!). As if that opening salvo wasn't strange enough, the weird factor just keeps going up on every successive track. The trio of Oliver Powers, Chuck Ivey and Johnny Gregg set out to make "the ultimate record". While that's VERY subjective, the results contained herein are indeed wonderfully refreshing. Tracks one through eleven are the album proper, which was originally untitled and put out on the band's own label. It was also supposed to serve as a demo, and was sent out to various magazines and record labels. A particularly scathing letter from EG is included in the liners. The remaining ten tracks are rehearsal recordings, alternate versions, an outtake from the sessions, and three covers. One of the covers is from the pre-Debris' outfit Victoria Vein and the Thunderpunks; tellingly, the other two are renditions of songs by John Cale and the Stooges ("Gun" and "Real Cool Time", respectively). Oddly enough, while slightly rougher in quality, the bonus tracks are every bit as exciting and unique as the album proper. As a whole it is a truly delirious ride through the mindset of three musical outsiders in the nowhere town of Chickasha, Oklahoma. Given the band only existed a year (summer '75 to summer '76), this is nothing less than the ultimate document of a true legend. It's really a shame they missed the punk bandwagon, but they probably wouldn't have fit in very well with the "simplicity is all you need" mindset of punk's early years anyway. This comes highly recommended to fans of music's eccentrics, especially those who always wondered what the Residents would sound like as a punk band.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, THE MIRROR MAN SESSIONS

Buddha, 1971; available and expanded

9 tracks, 76:25

The story behind this one is long. In essence, this was originally released four years after it was recorded. Three of the tracks were long avant-blues jams ("Tarotplane", "25th Century Quaker", and "Mirror Man") recorded live in the studio; the fourth, "Kandy Korn", was an extended and more warped version of a track that later ended up on STRICTLY PERSONAL. All four tracks were originally intended for a scrapped double album called IT COMES TO YOU IN A PLAIN BROWN WRAPPER. Now, Buddha has rectified the situation by adding an additional five tracks to MIRROR MAN, bringing the set closer to its intended form. The bonus tracks are mostly alternate takes of songs found on other albums, but it's intriguing to hear them stripped of the psychedelic effects later applied to them. As for the album proper, these are blues jams unlike any blues you've ever heard. "Tarotplane" features the good Captain quoting various blues songs, "25th Century Quaker" brings to mind Can interpreting the Delta, and and "Mirror Man" consists of fun ramblings and strange guitar effects. "Kandy Korn" is the shortest of the lot (at just over eight minutes!) and the most grounded in rock. It's a shambling psychedelic jam bringing to mind Pink Floyd's early space rock as filtered through an American weirdo's thought processes. The added tracks can be a bit much following the massive MIRROR MAN proper (which is over fifty minutes by itself); however, they're an important part of the package, as they allow a glimpse at the Magic Band's power in shorter settings. Consider this a midway point between Beefheart's early warped blues and the full-on insanity of TROUT MASK REPLICA. It takes patience to sit through, but the experience is both refreshing and rewarding.


Kamikaze, 1977; reissued by Crammed Discs; available

17 tracks, 50:15

Another intriguing oddity, Aksak Maboul was a Belgian ensemble performing a truly eclectic range of music. Focused around Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis (plus a sizable supporting cast), the band utilizes everything from primitive drum machines and synths to saxophones and accordion. The tracks range from the ur-techno of "Saure Gurke" (this may possibly be the first true techno song) to the avant-jazz/chamber music hybrid of "Milano Per Caso", all the way to the minimalist workout "Mastoul Alakefak". This album in many ways points forward to the early years of post-rock, and post-punk as well! The only real comparison is probably ZNR, but Aksak Maboul is even MORE playful than those French tricksters. They even slip in a truly wonderful cover of Duke Ellington's "The Mooche"; this track is VERY far ahead of its time, as it sounds exactly like early digital dub! Adding to the mystery, the album title translates to "eleven dances to fight the migraine"; considering there's seventeen tracks, this title makes no sense. Aksak Maboul changed their name to Aqsak Maboul (since reverted to Aksak on CD) for their second album, UN PEU DE L'AME DES BANDITS. While an amazing album, UN PEU is far more serious in nature and much closer to RIO (no doubt due to the involvement of Henry Cow's Cutler and Frith!). ONZE DANSES is much more varied and more (primitive) electronic-oriented. From the "where are they now" department, Hollander founded the label Crammed Discs in 1980, and they continue to release innovative recordings from all over the world (they are Konono No. 1's label, for instance). For the roots of this experimental and open-minded eclecticism, definitely check out ONZE DANSES. HIGHLY recommended to fans of ALL music.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Isadora, 1976; reissued by ReR; available

15 tracks, 45:11

Ever find something so strange, you wonder why it's not better known just BECAUSE it's so strange? That pretty much sums up ZNR. Perhaps the least startling thing about this album is the sketch inside by none other than Captain Beefheart. Centered around the French multi-instrumentalist duo of Hector Zazou and Joseph Racaille, ZNR also featured Patrick Portella, Gilly Bell, Fernand D'Arles, Andre Jaume, David Rueff and Harvey Neneux. The main sound is centered around early synths (namely the VCS3 and the ARP 2600), acoustic and electric pianos, and clarinets, bolstered by other instrumental contributions on a variety of instruments. The tracks are mostly concise, many clocking in at under two minutes. There are also a few suites, including the standout "La Pointe De Tes Seins Est Comme Un Petale De Pavot". Racaille provides the majority of what few vocals there are; his smooth speak/sing style adds a lot to the music. Zazou's vocals consist of a multi-lingual bit of absurdity and a heavily vocodered rumble. As a point of interest, many of the lyrics seem multi-lingual; bits of Spanish, French, English, etc. all show up in the same sentence. Much of the music is inspired by the great proto-minimalist Erik Satie, while still being uniquely ZNR. Some tracks come across as no wave classical; others are more pastoral and beautiful. The combination of unusual instruments and odd but endearing arrangements makes for a solid listen. An overlooked treasure, and definitely a must for RIO-fans! (It's probably worth noting that the CD reissue reverses the original LP's playing order; thus, tracks 1 through 8 were the LP's B-side and 9 to 15 were the A-side. Not terribly important, but there you have it!)