Monday, December 14, 2009

Area, EVENT '76

Cramps, 1979; reissued a few times on CD; availability uncertain

3 tracks, 39:39

Area was mostly known for creative prog rock. This release is certainly creative, but it sure isn't rock of any sort! Reduced to the impressive trio of Demetrio Stratos (vocals, though they're really used as an instrument here), Patrizio Fariselli (piano), and Paolo Tofani (guitar and synth), Area is joined by guests Steve Lacy (sax) and Paul Lytton (percussion)*. This is basically live versions of two pieces from the MALEDETTI album, "Caos Parte Seconda" and "SCUM" (here retitled "Event '76"). For "Caos", the band had pieces of paper with different "moods" to play in: silence, sex, irony, violence, and hypnosis. It's pure improvisation, with everything from crazy instrumental bursts to long stretches of restraint. Every player is in top form; extra consideration should be given to Stratos, who (as always) summons forth an incredible array of vocal effects and textures, not the least of which is some quacking early on. "Event '76" is no less free, but after the side-and-a-half of "Caos" it does drag somewhat. In all honesty this would be a bad introduction to Area's catalog for most since it's not representative of their work, but fans of free improv and the like can dive right in with no worries. For more traditional (but not less inspired!) prog, I'd start with CAUTION RADIATION AREA or MALEDETTI.

*Both Lacy and Lytton have several solo and group works worth investigating; actually, so do all three Area members present here!

Friday, December 4, 2009


Table Of The Elements, 2001; available

3 tracks, 64:31

Well, what a find this was! What we have here is a collection of John Cale's private recordings from around the time his tenure with La Monte Young and the Theatre Of Eternal Music was over; they are for the most part contemporary with his stint in the Velvet Underground. Naturally enough, influences of both his minimalist past and his avant-rock (then) present and future are detectable on this disc. Straight from Tony Conrad's tape archives, these three pieces are pristinely recorded (for the most part) despite dating from '65 to '68. They are also nothing short of incredible. The title track opens up the disc and occupies most of it, being a whopping forty-two minutes and forty-two seconds. It sounds like it could be awfully boring on paper: Cale experiments with his Vox Continental and a single chord. Don't let that scare you away; this is fascinating to listen to the whole way through. The chord has subtle variations added to it, whether it be another note or a slight decrease in pressure applied to the keys. What results is a constantly fluid improvisation that sounds remarkably like later developments in electronic music, all done with a cheesy organ and plenty of inspiration. It's a tough act to follow, but the other two tracks are up for the challenge. "Summer Heat" is a solo guitar performance, with plenty of hypnotic cyclic patterns and subtle tonal shifts. It's a little over eleven minutes and not a minute is wasted. In many ways this predates Dylan Carlson's stance of being an "amplifier player", and it also sounds (not surprisingly) very VU-ish. Even the rough cut-off at the end is charming. Finally, "The Second Fortress" brings us back to Cale and his Vox, possibly aided by a tape recorder set-up a la Fripp and Eno or Ilitch(though predating them by a good six years or so). This is an intensely abstract piece, recalling the primitive electronic wizardry of Richard Maxfield while sounding remarkably like the much later electro-abstractions of Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, et al. After ten and a half minutes, "The Second Fortress" is over, leaving you hungry for more Cale experimentation. Luckily, Table Of The Elements has released two more installments, STAINLESS GAMELAN and DREAM INTERPRETATION; also, the now-hard-to-find DAY OF NIAGARA features a rare (though poorly recorded) Theatre Of Eternal Music session. Other Cale recordings are interesting, especially the avant-skronk SABOTAGE-LIVE and the Terry Riley collaboration CHURCH OF ANTHRAX, but his experimental "New York In The 1960s" work on TOTE is the most daring and fascinating of his works, especially on SUN BLINDNESS MUSIC.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arthur Doyle Plus 4, ALABAMA FEELING

AK-BA, 1978; reissued many times; out of print on CD, available on vinyl from Rank And File

6 tracks, 37:52

Oh MAN, is this some intense jazz! Let's cover the "Plus Four" first. Arthur Doyle's brave sidemen for this outing are drummer Bruce Moore, electric bassist Richard Williams, trombonist Charles Stephens, and drummer Rashied Sinan. All of these players truly shine on their instruments, with percussionists Sinan and Moore doing especially well supplying inventive fills and improvisations. Stephens and Williams also shine on their instruments, with interesting non-linear basslines and surprisingly interesting horn support. Doyle, however, is the true demonic genius of this quintet! Credited as playing "tenor voice-o-phone, bass voice-o-net", and flute, his playing is truly not quite like anything else. The "voice-o" terminology refers to his style of speak-playing, using the tenor sax and the bass clarinet in an almost hindewhu* way. Knowing this makes you wonder just what the hell he's saying, because his playing is always at full blast, with the skronk-o-meter (to coin a term myself; I think?) at eleven. This particular set was recorded in 1977 at the Brook in New York. Being the height of the no wave period, this had to go over well with that scene; in fact, Rudolph Grey of Red Transistor was at this show and was impressed enough to recruit Doyle for the Blue Humans**. While there are titles and rough cuts at the end of each track, this is really best experienced the way it was recorded: all in one go at maximum volume. "November 8th or 9th - I Can't Remember When" opens the set with a particularly scorching performance by Doyle, and the supporting quartet surprisingly manage to match his energy. Other highlights include the multi-part "Development", which almost approaches AMM territory with its flute run and raging percussion, as well as the mostly solo sax piece "Something For Caserlo, Larry & Irma". The latter piece isn't exactly restrained, but compared to the other tracks it comes across as a bizarre moment of tranqulity. The recording isn't as great as it could have been, but it could have been a LOT worse. Good luck finding this, but free jazz fans can't say they know the genre until they do. Fans of free improv and no wave will find some common ground here; others might want to approach this with caution, but as with most albums reviewed here, it'll be worth the effort. Other Doyle albums are out there; some find him experimenting with his "Electro-Acoustic Ensemble", and some are very raw home recordings that border on outsider music. All of it is worth investigating. Harder to find but easily ALABAMA FEELING's equals are Noah Howard's THE BLACK ARK and Milford Graves' BABI MUSIC, which find Doyle laying down incredible performances as a sideman himself.*** Check the comments for a great link to an interview with Doyle (thanks, Roy!).
*From Wikipedia (credit totally being given!): "Hindewhu is a style of singing/whistle-playing of the BaBenzélé pygmies of the Central African Republic. The word is an onomatopoeia for the sound of a performer alternately singing pitched syllables and blowing into a single-pitch papaya-stem whistle." Which is a better definition than I could ever give!

**The excellent (and unfortunately VERY rare) LIVE 1980 documents the trio of Doyle, Grey, and the incredible free jazz drummer Beaver Harris. Very much worth checking out, and good luck!

***ALSO worth investigating is Charles Tyler, founder of AK-BA. His albums for ESP-Disk' (CHARLES TYLER ENSEMBLE and EASTERN MAN ALONE) find him in ferocious and psychedelic modes, respectively.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Originally released on International Artists in 1967 and 1968 respectively; PARABLE had 13 tracks, GOD BLESS had 20. My copy is a Charly reissue, which omits one of the "Free Form Freak-Out" tracks for a total of 32 tracks, 77:10

Drag City, 1995; available

44 tracks, 33:23

Drag City, 1998; available

2 discs. Disc 1: 3 tracks, 43:56. Disc 2: 3 tracks, 64:50.

Texas was quite a strange place back in the Sixties. No band proved this point more than Houston's infamous Red Krayola. At this point consisting of Mayo Thompson, Rick Barthelme, and Steve Cunningham, the Red Krayola (Crayola on the first album before being changed for legal reasons) concocted a strange mix of current psychedelia and ahead-of-its-time experimentation. This mix is most rooted in psychedelia on THE PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND. Tracks like "Hurricane Fighter Plane", "Pink Stainless Tail", and "Former Reflections Enduring Doubt" could get radio play then and now, even if the musicianship is sometimes a little clumsy and Thompson's words are abstract at best. However, the "Free Form Freak-Out" tracks between the songs push this into stranger territory. These are full-on slabs of cacophony featuring the "Familiar Ugly", an assortment of friends of the band including Roky Erickson from 13th Floor Elevators* on organ. Featuring everything from feedback to blown bottles to matchsticks rubbed together, these tracks are actually fascinating experiments which creatively flow into the proper songs; they are also the only recorded appearance of the Familiar Ugly. There is also the instrumental title track, which is built around what appears to be a percussive loop and is completely devoid of structure otherwise; this track almost seems like a blueprint for COCONUT HOTEL. As a whole, THE PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND is still a solid listen; it's also part of my personal Holy Trinity of Sixties Freak-Out Albums, along with Friendsound's JOYRIDE and Cromagnon's ORGASM/CAVE ROCK. The compilation EPITAPH FOR A LEGEND has some far more restrained (and folky!) demo versions of tracks from this album along with several other treasures of Texas-style rock and psych.

THE PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND was the Red Krayola's true freak-out album, but it did have identifiable ties to rock. COCONUT HOTEL was a complete rejection of rock norms, venturing further into free improvisation. This gem of an album was recorded in 1967, but International Artists rejected it for being too strange. Nothing on here is nearly as noisy as the "Free Form Freak-Out" tracks , but they aren't very musical either! With simplistic titles such as "Organ Buildup", "Free Guitar", and "Piano", most tracks deliver improvisations performed on the track's title instrument, though "Vocal" features some interesting effects and ambiance alongside "headphone vocals" by Frank Davis. The more abstractly named "One-Minute Imposition", "Boards", and "Water Pour" have more varied instrumentation but are no less adventurous in their search for pure sound. Then there are the "One-Second Pieces". Yes, these are exactly what you'd expect them to be: one-second bursts of noise, mostly performed on some sort of horn, piano, and drums. Some of the tracks feature more than one of these pieces, while most are just the blast of sound and then a few seconds of silence. Believe it or not, these are pretty entertaining, and they almost form a micro-suite after a few listens. More adventurous listeners (and fans of free improv in general) should find plenty to like on this disc.

LIVE 1967 is more intimidating. At two discs, these noisefests can be difficult to take in one sitting; it's best to tackle it one disc at a time. Disc one features their performance at the Angry Arts Festival on June 29, as well as two acoustics-and-voice recordings made in the band's hotel room that evening. Disc two finds them performing (believe it or not) at the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, July 2 through July 4. The first disc has its moments, mostly during the live show. The hotel recordings can be a little annoying when the vocals get carried away; while interesting the first time around, these attempts at abstract chanting overstay their welcome quick. These minor flaws are completely made up for with the second disc. Not only are the three performances excellent, but one has a guest performance by John Fahey**! The July 4 concert is especially amusing since it was from a radio broadcast. The announcer talks for quite a bit over the band, assuming they're warming/tuning up! All of the performances (except the hotel recordings) feature heavy use of feedback, one-second pieces, drones, improvisation, and other avant-garde elements. It was a bold move to perform such avant-garde material for festival crowds. The audiences, however, seem to love it, and the applause at the end of each performance is surprisingly quite enthusiastic. The recording quality is amazingly good consdering the age and circumstances of the recordings. One or two tracks have bits of audience chatter during the performance, but it doesn't interfere too much with the music. This is definitely an acquired taste, but fans of this sort of thing will absolutely love it.

After the preceding albums, Rick Barthelme left the band. Tommy Smith replaced him for GOD BLESS THE RED KRAYOLA AND ALL WHO SAIL WITH IT. Thompson and company come across as much more restrained here, but it's still as quirky as ever. None of the tracks are over three minutes, and eleven of them are less than two minutes. Most of these tracks have strange structures and rhythms, sounding very much like a product of the post-punk years rather than the psychedelic years. Strangely enough, one of the tracks is even called "Coconut Hotel"! Echoes of that album show up on two tracks: the self-explanatory "Free Piece", and "Listen To This", which is a one-second piece with an introduction. Another intriguing oddity is the EXTREMELY lo-fi "The Shirt", which has Thompson's voice and guitar accompanied by a Ferrari-esque "slice of life" recording. It's a solid album and a great listen, but it's also the least adventurous effort from this period. Then again, the least adventurous Krayola outings still make most other bands look tame and reserved! Fans of Beefheart, Zappa, et al may want to begin investigating Thompson's world here.

Mayo Thompson has kept the Red Krayola going over the years, working with everyone from Pere Ubu, the Rough Trade Roster, and several members of Chicago's post-rock elite. All of his work is worth checking out, but these four albums represent the genesis (some would say the apex as well) of his twisted musical vision. Start with THE PARABLE... and GOD BLESS... and go from there.

*The 13th Floor Elevators were the Red Krayola's only real competition; truth be told, while they are a great band, they're not really as out there as reviews would make you think.

**There is a legendary lost studio album recorded around this time featuring Fahey and the Red Krayola. Lelan Rogers (head of International Artists and Kenny Rogers' brother) refused to hand over the tapes, and their location and state of preservation are unknown. If this ever gets located and issued, you'll certainly find a review of it here!

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Heat, THIS HEAT

Piano, 1979; reissued most recently by This Is; available

11 tracks, 48:30

This Heat are one of those groups who only got the recognition they deserved after they split up. Consisting of Gareth Williams, Charles Bullen, and Charles Heyward, This Heat were something of an enigma. Bullen and Heyward used to perform improvisations as Dolphin Logic, and that particular art form certainly carried over to This Heat. Their debut album is a mix of live and studio recordings; it's almost impossible to tell which are which (not a bad thing at all!). Bookended by the short droning "Testcard" pieces, the music covers a LOT of ground. Elements of dub, prog rock, krautrock, post-punk, and free improv all combine to form one of the more varied early industrial albums. Standout tracks like "Twilight Furniture", with its insistent drumming and minimal guitar coloration, and th brutal prog-punk stormer "Horizontal Hold" almost sound like different bands. Most tracks ebb and flow right into each other, providing a fascinating listen when played the whole way through. My personal favorites are the eerily atmospheric "The Fall Of Saigon" and the absolutely incredible "24 Track Loop", which takes a short drum loop and turns it into something that for all the world sounds like twisted IDM/drum'n'bass, YEARS before IDM or drum'n'bass even existed! The whole album is impressive, and it is the best This Heat album. This Heat would release one more album during their lifetime, the equally impressive DECEIT, which does lean more towards songs than atmospheres,as well as the more abstract HEALTH AND EFFICIENCY EP. The archival releases MADE AVILABLE (John Peel sessions, including alternate versions of tracks from THIS HEAT and DECEIT), REPEAT (basically an extended take on "24 Track Loop" and two more abstract pieces), and LIVE 80/81 are also worth checking out, as are the post-This Heat projects Camberwell Now (Heyward and later member Trefor Goronwy) and Flaming Tunes (Williams).

Sunday, October 18, 2009


INA-GRM, 1995; available

4 compositions spread over 10 tracks (see review), 77:13

The late Luc Ferrari had a gift for truly innovative recordings. While he definitely stuck to musique concrete, there's no mistaking a Ferrari piece for anyone else. This CD is a compilation drawn from four separate releases and covering three decades. "Music Promenade" and "Presque rien no. 1, le lever du jour au bord de la mar" date from the late '60s, "Presque Rien No. 2, ainsi continue la nuit dans ma tête multiple" is from '77, and "Presque rien avec filles" is the most recent, being completed in '89. Actually, the above dates for all pieces should say "completed in (year)"; each one apparently took quite a while to finish. However, the effort was worth it! "Music Promenade" is perhaps the most primitively conceived; essentially consisting of four tapes playing simultaneously, it is a densely loaded sonic collage of epic proportions. Prerecorded music, laughter, discussions, animal sounds.... yeah, everything shows up here, possibly even the kitchen sink! "Presque rien no. 1", by comparison, seems deceptively simple. It is, as the title makes clear, a recording of "dawn at the seaside" in a Yugoslavian village with VERY subtle manipulation. While basically a field recording, this is an intensely fascinating listen. Motorboats depart from the shore, the echoing of the motors creating electronic detritus in their wake (excuse the pun). People sing what seems to be a traditional song. Cicadas buzz and hum, providing their own form of music. At this point, the listener is probably wondering which sounds are left raw and which are processed and/or added to the mix. After twenty minutes, the tape abruptly cuts off, and the piece is over. But up to that point, you have been transported to the village, and the result of coming back is jarring. Incredible as "no. 1" is, it pales in comparison to "Presque rien no. 2". Subtitled "thus the night continues in my multiple head", Ferrari initially considered this too personal to release; thankfully he changed his mind! The recording itself is much more active on Ferrari's part. He actually carries the microphone and tape recorder, so his footsteps and softly spoken words are part of the natural soundscape. The sounds of birds, insects, and other animals dominate the piece, but these are often electronically manipulated and layered onto the initial recording. In addition, Ferrari seamlessly grafts such musical elements as organ drones and what could very well be electronic percussion onto the recording. For its entire 21:29 duration, "no. 2" is completely fascinating and not really like anything else being done at the time. "Presque rien avec filles" closes the disc, and it is a decent piece. However, the circa '89 production and electronic sounds haven't dated nearly as well as the preceding pieces. That minor quibble aside, "avec filles" is still a delightful listen, if far removed from the other two "Presque rien" pieces. The noisiest of the series, it begins with sheets of white noise and goes on to incorporate random electronic drums and other interesing touches, all surrounded by the sound of girls talking to each other. It's worth noting that the CD indexing divides all the compositions into multiple tracks. Thus, "Music Promenade" occupies tracks 1 and 2, "Presque rien no. 1" is on 3 through 5, "no. 2" is 6 to 8, and "avec filles" fills up 9 and 10. Any serious fan of electronic music, musique concrete, or modern composition needs these pieces, and this is the best place to get them all at once. Alternately, once you're hooked on Ferrari, you may want to purchase the 10-disc box set; it's reasonably priced (usually about $100, which is VERY low for a multi-disc set) and contains all the essential compositions. The compilation SON MEMORISE has "Presque rien no. 4", which is very much worth hearing as well; it also has a piece from the same period as "no. 2" and the incredible "Salicebury Cocktail", which was one of Ferrari's last works.


Legcay, 2001; available

7 tracks, 65:29

It's strange that John Cage recordings exist, considering his disdain for recordings in general. Yet here it is, two volumes of a recording of one epic performance, edited down into just over sixty-five minutes and combined on this CD. Assisted by David Tudor, Cage set up a very complex audio system in the Feigen/Palmer Gallery in Los Angeles. I'm not exactly certain on what was done here, but records and sounds picked up by ambient microphones do come into play, as do radio broadcasts. In the end, the result truly is better heard than described, sounding like where musique concrete, plunderphonics, and chance composition combine. If this review seems rather short and not overly descriptive, it's because this truly is a difficult experience to capture in words. Go find it and hear it and you'll understand.


Come Organisation, 1980; reissued by Susan Lawly; available, but tends to go in and out of print

6 tracks, 32:49

With this short album, Whitehouse were introduced to the world. At this stage, Whitehouse was William Bennett, Peter McKay, and Paul Reuter (this would be the lineup for TOTAL SEX and BUCHENWALD as well). Nowhere near as abrasive as the Bennett-Best-Sotos years, this may be the only Whitehouse album that could be called "charming" without any sense of irony. The comparitively minimal nature of this album is reflected by the equipment used: two EDP Wasp synths (legendary for their unique sound and mercurial nature, and one of which was modified by Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter), a tone generator, and an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. "On Top" begins with some low feedback and squiggling synth noises, soon joined by Bennett's heavily reverbed vocals. His delivery is far less intense than it would later be, and he actually sounds slightly meek at times! The music, however, is anything but tame, constantly and subtly mutating over the six minute duration. Oddly enough, four out of the six tracks are just over six minutes; whether this was intentional isn't certain. "Mindphaser" has Bennet's vocals much lower in the mix, buried under a fuzz-and-feedback drone. On this track, that works to his benefit. He keeps intoning for the listener to "relax/elax/listen to the master/you like that/FEEL THE PAIN/and pleasure" etc. etc., and the effect is DEFINITELY not as unsettling now as it may have been twenty-nine years ago, but it's still an interesting (if flawed) track. "Rock and Roll" closes side one with some random yet strangely musical explorations, held together by the tone generator's steady pulse. Over this, Bennett delivers the album's most intense vocal performance, screaming his anger at the fallacy of rock for all to hear. Side two features another three songs in a similar vein. "The Second Coming" sounds like the best parts of side one combined, while "Coitus" is the noisiest track on the album. Then there's the title track, which closes the album and is the shortest track at three and a half minutes. It's also completely silent, not even containing the sound of tape hiss or vinyl playing. Whether this is a waste of space or a stroke of genius is up to the listener, but after playing this album it's certainly not unwelcome! As stated above (and as most of you probably know already), Whitehouse would go on to become one of the harshest groups in electronic music, coining the term "power electronics" and delivering such endurance tests as ERECTOR and MUMMY AND DADDY. BIRTHDEATH EXPERIENCE is a crucial look at their early years, even if it is rather tame by their later standards. It's also worth hearing to see how Whitehouse were influential in their own way on later strains of industrial and noise music.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Mandala, 1996 (see review); availability uncertain

9 tracks, 75:19

While mostly known as a visual artist and coiner of the term "art brut", Jean Dubuffet made some very strange recordings as well. This compilation is something of a "best of"; the original EXPÉRIENCES MUSICALES was a box set of six ten-inch records, and these nine tracks represent the cream of the crop. In the liner notes (reproduced in French, English, and German), Dubuffet admits his lack of experience with the instruments used and requests that musicians keep this in mind while listening. Regardless of his skill, Dubuffet creates dense masses of sound with a true arsenal of instruments(which range from flute, cello, and xylophone to more exotic instruments like cymbalon, "paper trumpet", and Chinese mouth organ). All recordings date from 1961, and while the sound quality definitely reflects this, it wouldn't sound right remastered. "La Fleur De Barbe" opens the disc with nearly twenty-four minutes of musical chaos and strangely intoned poetry. It's the only track to feature vocals, and it is quite a stunner, never locking into repetition once. The seven minute "Coq Á L'Oeil", by contrast, is a solo piano improvisation. Some tracks use only a few instruments while others simply say "diverse instruments" and leave it to the listener to decide what is being played. All of the tracks were achieved by multitracking and editing different improvisations; Dubuffet claimed to be ignorant at the time of musique concrete et al, but he came up with his own (intentionally) primitive version. Overall, it's a prime slice of free improvisation, residing somewhere between AMM and outsider music. Fans of Dubuffet's art, musique concrete, and free improvisation would be very much impressed with this effort; his MUSIQUE BRUT is also worth hunting down, though it is far more difficult to find. Good luck!

Edit: On the easier-to-find front, Dubuffet did the cover art for Jasun Martz' THE PILLORY, which is an amazing avant-prog/neo-orchestral masterpiece. Get this as well!

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, TROUT MASK REPLICA

Straight/Reprise, 1969; available

28 tracks, 79:08

I'm pretty sure most of you know this one by now, so I won't be describing it too much. If you haven't, you probably should. It truly is as wild and wonderful as everybody says it is. When it was released forty years ago, it seemed there really wasn't anything quite like this in rock. Maybe some contemporary bands were much freakier with less recognition (the Red Krayola and Cromagnon come to mind), but TROUT MASK REPLICA still sounded not quite like anything else. Twenty-eight tracks were spread over two LPs (now on one CD), a good chunk of which are under three minutes; of these, three tracks are a capella, one ("The Blimp (mousetrapreplica)") has phoned-in vocals with music by the Mothers of Invention, and three are instrumentals. If you're familiar with the story behind the recording, I won't bore you; if not, you may want to read up on just how much of a control freak the Captain really was, and you should keep in mind supposedly none of this album is improvised. The real question is whether any of it still holds up. I truly think so; when I first heard it ten years ago, I wasn't quite ready to fathom what was going on here. Needless to say, that position has since changed. Noise-rock, no wave, the New York downtown scene, punk, post-punk... this album could fit into ANY of those categories, but it obivously predates them all by a long shot. An essential slice of avant-rock history!

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Oxygene, 1978; reissued and expanded to two discs by Fractal; available

Fractal edition: 2 discs. Disc 1: 7 tracks, 71:06. Disc 2: 12 tracks, 75:38

More French insanity! Ilitch was essentially multi-instrumentalist Thierry Müller. On their next album, 10 SUICIDES, there was a full band, but for the majority of PERIODIKMINDTROUBLE it's just Thierry and his arsenal of instruments. On two tracks he's assisted by his brother Patrick, and there is a rerecorded track with Laurent Saïet on guitar, but those are the only exceptions. The material was recorded between 1974 and 1978. The original LP consisted of a few of the "Innerfilmsequences" on side A, while the B-side was entirely occupied by "Periodikmindtrouble". For the reissue, "Periodikmindtrouble" itself is track 1 of disc 1, with tracks 2 to 4 being "Ballades Urbaines", followed by the two-part "" and the short "Micik Für Brokenpedalboard". Disc 2 is the entirety of the "Innerfilmsequences", including the five released on the original LP and two which were released on the severely rare P.T.M. WORKS cassette. As for the music itself, Ilitch comes across as the evil offspring of Terry Riley, NO PUSSYFOOTING and early industrial. At times this veers close to Heldon, particularly on "Periodikmindtrouble" itself, which is performed on organ and "destructed" guitar. That being said, Ilitch is still a uniquely creative entity. Disembodied voices are scatterred throughout "Ballades Urbaines", which is equally covered in distortion and effects, making for a truly unsettling mix. This was originally intended to be the B-side of the LP, and it would have been a fine release on its own. The remaining compositions on disc 1 are early recordings, both from 1974, and these are every bit as interesting as the rest of the material. Disc 2 goes into progressively more abstract territory. Harmonium, guitar, organ, synths..... all find their way into Müller's hands. It's interesting to note that Müller used a Revox A77 recorder, the same model Eno used for NO PUSSYFOOTING. Ilitch's material is similarly displaced in time, being shrouded in echo, reverb, delay, and all manner of modifications that combine to form an entirely mesmerizing and disorienting collection. It comes across in the end as a truly amazing cross between cosmic music, early industrial, musique concrete, and proto-dark ambient. Needless to say, this is highly recommended. Ilitch continues to release albums; the latest offerrings are more synth-pop, but still very worth a listen. Also worth hearing is their second album, 1980's 10 SUICIDES, which is like a demented outsider take on synth-pop.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jean Guérin, TACET

Futura, 1971; reissued by Elica; availability uncertain

8 tracks, 39:11

The French never cease to amaze and confound! Jean Guérin was mostly known as a drummer, appearing on quite a few free jazz sessions. For this, his only solo outing, he set out to make a soundtrack to a film called BOF. Having never seen the film, I'm not certain how much of the album was actually used. The soundtrack was released as TACET on the legendary Futura label (also known for putting out records by Jacques Thollot, Red Noise, and Mahogany Brain). His choice of musicians is absolutely impeccable; notable figures of the French scene like Bernard Vitet and Philippe Maté contribute their talents. Vitet even plays "underwater trumpet"! Guérin himself takes up a lot of instruments, from electric bass to darbouka to VCS3 and sound generators. Overall, TACET is full of strange sounds and even stranger arrangements. Françoise Achard contributes wordless vocals to several tracks, and most of the time her voice sounds like another instrument rather than a human being. The use of both contrabass and electric bass on some tracks provides an interesting sound, considering the electric bass is treated to sound nothing like it should (this isn't a bad thing!). It's hard to pick out standout tracks, since this all flows together perfectly and is best experienced all the way through. The first and last tracks, "Triptik 2" and "Gaub 71" respectively, both feature the same fast rhythm (which sounds like a mix of darbouka and primitive drum machine), but otherwise are different entities. "Gaub 71" is the more experimental of the two, with a constantly evolving structure over its eight minutes. "Triptik 2" is punctuated with the trumpets of Jean Paul Rondepierre and Vitet, and Maté contrubutes his saxophone. This is the closest that TACET comes to jazz, as the remaining tracks are pure explorations of sound, somewhere between free jazz and the cosmic explorations of Kluster et al. Truly an obscure masterpiece, TACET deserves a much bigger audience; other reviewers have pointed out that this points forward to Herbie Hancock's space classics MWANDISHI and CROSSINGS, which isn't very far off. It definitely points forward to post-rock as well, with its use of studio effects and loose structures. HIGHLY recommended!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tolerance, ANONYM

Vanity, 1980; out of print

9 tracks, 40:08

Tolerance were a mysterious Japanese duo consisting of Junko Tange on voice, synth, and piano and Masami Yoshikawa on guitar. There's a good chance both performed on other electronics too. For this, their first LP, Tolerance created an absolute masterpiece of minimal electronic atmospherics. The guitars alone cover a large variety of styles, ranging from gentle sliding to folky noodling to full-on skronk. The accompanying sounds also manage to cover quite a range, while all being decidedly experimental. Spoken female vocals (which seem to be in French!) mix in effortlessly with strange electronic rhythms and gentle Satie-esque piano, creating a unique sound. The electronics used truly aren't easy to identify, and may even be homemade. Each track is excellent, and they have some truly odd and interesting names. "I Wanna Be A Homicide", "Laughin In The Shadows", "Tecno-Room"..... really, the song titles alone should tell you this is great! This could even be considered Japan's krautrock album! Loose comparisons to such other visionaries as the Sperm and Moolah can be made, and this definitely holds a place as one of those truly unusual albums that every serious avant-gardist should hear. They went on to record another album, DIVIN, which is almost as good. Sadly, neither is available currently (there was a grey-area vinyl of DIVIN a few years back), and both are in sore need of a reissue.

Friendsound, JOYRIDE

RCA Victor, 1969; reissued on grey-area vinyl a few times; availability uncertain

6 tracks, 34:43

It's hard to believe this was a Paul Revere & the Raiders side project. There's no real credits on the album, but yes indeed, this is Raiders members using the studio as an instrument. It sounds about as far removed from their main project as possible. What more can you expect, when "Brotherhood" is listed as producer?!?!?!? What few liner notes describe the recording of this album as "a musical free-for-all", which is as good a description as any! Beginning with the slow and druggy rock jam "Joyride", Friendsound soon leave any semblance of pop or rock behind. "Childhood's End" combines a mechanical rhythm (as in actual industrial machinery, not drum machine) and the chant "send me a dream" in a way that sounds a lot like what Cromagnon was doing; in fact, JOYRIDE as a whole has a lot of similarities to Cromagnon's only album (pop stars freaking out, chants and other non-traditional vocals, use of primitive sampling in doses). "Love Sketch" is an almost new agey instrumental, not too remarkable but not truly bad, and it goes right into "Childsong". This is a bizarre track made up of the sounds of a playground, chimes, flute or mellotron (it's hard to tell), and a LOT of tape manipulation. The kids' voices are subtly twisted, and the music grows louder while still exuding a calm beauty. This is a highlight of the album, and it ends side one on a great note. Side two consists of two tracks, and boy, are these weird! Both are about nine and a half minutes, and they're two different sides of the coin. "Lost Angel Proper St." has a bluesy organ, spoken effected vocals that get frequently eaten by the music, crazy electric guitar freakouts, and long stretches where the music changes completely, while still coming back to the original theme in a way. Last and definitely not least is "The Empire Of Light", which ends the album on its highest note; given the quality of the other tracks, this is saying a lot! Piano is the main instrument here, surrounded by all manner of sound effects. Everything from spooky organ to weird synthy squelches to unidentifiable tape manipulations comes into play, all with the meandering yet quite beautiful piano underneath. It's a truly amazing track, sounding remarkably like Moolah or Kluster. Far overdue for a reissue, JOYRIDE was a bold album that still sounds remarkably innovative. It's a shame they never recorded another album as Friendsound; they sure did continue on as the Raiders, but that's a little outside the scope of this blog. Perhaps that is for the best; this sort of thing is hard to capture twice. Consider this album a part of the 60s freakout holy trinity along with Cromagnon's CAVE ROCK/ORGASM and the Red Krayola's PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND, and until there's a proper CD reissue, try to hear it any way you can.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Negativland, NEGATIVLAND

Each cover is handmade and unique, so a picture would be useless*

Seeland, 1980; out of print**, but a mass-produced version is supposedly on the way

20 untitled tracks, 36:47

Nowadays known for their masterful satire of mass media and pop culture, Negativland began as a much different prospect. For their debut album, Negativland was Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons (both of whom were 17 when this was recorded!), and David Wills; the liners inform you that "occasionally you will hear the talents of" Peter Dayton, W. Kennedy M., and Joan. The instruments range from synths, organs, viola, guitars, tape loops, and the mysterious "Booper". While definitely primitive compared to their later work, the debut album is quite incredible on its own merits. A majority of the tracks are bizarre sound collages, featuring everything from household appliances and electronic birdcalls to the ambient sounds of televisions and radios. A few tracks do break from the "norm": a mournful acoustic guitar ditty here, a relatively traditional new wave tune there, and then there's one track with jittery rhythms and blips accompanying such random observations as "Play.... Black seventy.... eight!". The sound collages, however, are the main draw, sounding like the bastard offspring of LUMPY GRAVY, THE FAUST TAPES, and early industrial a la Cabaret Voltaire or Nurse With Wound. It's not really musical by any stretch, but then does it need to be? Most fans tend to sell this album short; admittedly, it's an acquired taste, but give it a chance and it should grow on you. Their next two albums, POINTS and A BIG 10-8 PLACE, follow along a similar path, with fourth album ESCAPE FROM NOISE being considered the beginning of the satirical sound that Negativland is known for. I personally prefer the early work, since it's much less preachy and more about the genuine joy of having a twisted musical vision and the equipment to express said vision (but you should still hear their other albums if you haven't already; they truly are impressive). Negativland themselves are promising a reissue of the debut; while it won't have the unique covers, the "music" within still justifies the purchase.

*The packaging for this is truly great. The box itself is a thick cardboard box, like old reel-to-reel tapes came in. My copy's cover is a black and white photo of a guy brushing his teeth, pasted over a square of black construction paper. On the back is a piece of wallpaper, under which is a red sticker with the band's name, the catalog number,copyright information, and a hand-written "serial number" identifying which copy is yours (mine happens to be #1622). Inside, along with the CD, there are four inserts and a pin. One is simply a recipe for a coffee torte, another is a transcription of a bizarre food-oriented dialogue. The others have the credits for the album and a modified picture of a guy in pajamas whose arms reach nearly to the ground. Much like the album itself, the package is random but intriguing.

**Apparently limited to 9500 LPs and 4500 CDs

Monday, May 11, 2009

Third Eye Foundation, SOUND OF VIOLENCE

Domino/Merge, 1997; out of print, but two tracks are available on COLLECTED WORKS

4 tracks, 23:52

Following the extremely disturbing GHOST (reviewed previously here), Matt Elliott went further into the recesses of twisted electronics. SOUND OF VIOLENCE is perhaps the best non-LP 3EF release. Three of the tracks are over seven minutes long; the under-three-minute "Pain (Violence Version)" is the only track that feels like filler, but it's interesting filler nonetheless. The first two tracks, "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain", are excellent progressions from GHOST. Frantic drum'n'bass beats are cloaked in whirlwinds of noise, from what sounds like the shrieks of the damned to jazzy bass and guitar accents. The sound is much cleaner than on GHOST; however, it takes a few listens to notice, so dense are the compositions. Little of Matt's SEMTEX-era sound remains (save for the amazing beats), and at times this sounds like what Stockhausen or Xenakis may have come up wuth had they dabbled in drum'n'bass. The final track is "Corpses (Version)". This is a skeletal remix of "Corpses As Bedmates", retaining the original's structure while massively reducing the noise and shaving off two minutes. It's much more effective than it should be, and its inclusion alone justifies this EP. Luckily, "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain" are both well worth the price as well. This is an excellent transitional release, bidding farewell to 3EF's horrific and noisy early years while pointing forward to the less-frantic-but-still-jarring atmosphere of YOU GUYS KILL ME and LITTLE LOST SOUL. Unfortunately, this has gone out of print. "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain" are included on disc one of COLLECTED WORKS along with GHOST and two tracks off the "Semtex" single, but you really should find the standalone release so you can hear "Corpses (Version)". A good used copy should be fairly inexpensive and easy to find.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Elektra, 1968; reissued with two bonus tracks on CD, and with more bonus tracks as disc 1 of THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; available

Original LP: 8 tracks, 30:48; standalone CD reissue: 10 tracks, 37:48

Let me say it right now: I'm well aware I'm not the first person to review this album. Chances are if you're here, you've heard this and know whether you like it or not. If you have yet to hear this, be prepared. It's one of the most gorgeously depressing things I've ever heard. Most of the tracks are based on a minimalist framework of Nico's powerful vocals and spare harmonium arrangements, with ex-Velvet Undergound bandmate John Cale providing instrumentation as he sees fit. It's truly not related to rock of any sort; "No One Is There" is just Nico and Cale's viol work (not certain what sort of viol it is here), while "Lawns Of Dawns" finds her and the harmonium accompanied by distant crystalline sounds and atmospheric guitar noise. "Facing The Wind" has Nico's vocals electronically processed for a particularly disorienting effect. The last two tracks are the highlights for me. "Frozen Warnings" is an excellent piece of soothing drone-rock, Cale's multiple layers of viols building up to an excellent climax; "Evening Of Light", on the other hand, finds Nico's increasingly insistent vocals surrounded by a nightmarish mass of echoing strings and atonal guitar skronk, rumbling to a distinctly ominous end. Excellent, of course! The album was reissued on CD with two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential; "Nibelungen", though, is an interesting example of how Nico sounded a capella. A much better way to hear this is THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; disc one is the remastered LP, plus alternate versions of several tracks (including "Nibelungen" with musical accompaniment, but excluding the a capella version) and some interesting outtakes. Disc two is Nico's DESERTSHORE remastered, plus demo versions of those songs. DESERTSHORE is almost as good as THE MARBLE INDEX, and the bonus material is mostly worthwhile, making THE FROZEN BORDERLINE the essential purchase.

Wolfgang Dauner, OUTPUT

ECM, 1970; out of print

6 tracks, 37:35

Ahhh, Wolfgang Dauner! From his early free jazz albums (FREE ACTION being the best) to his insane combo Et Cetera (and of course the psych-jazz classic THE OIMELS), the man never fails to amaze and confound. On this album, he is joined by his usual (and EXTREMELY talented) drummer Fred Braceful and frequent cohort Eberhard Weber on various string instruments. Braceful was also a member of the insanely creative Exmagma. Both would later be part of Et Cetera as well. Dauner himself handles piano, Clavinet, and ring modulator. The results are absolutely incredible. Braceful's drumming can go from steady to insanely free-form at the drop of a hat. Weber is no slocuh on his instruments either, capable of both tasteful cello atmospheres and near-Sharrock freakouts; Dauner uses the ring modulator to occasionally turn his guitar sounds into something else entirely. Dauner himself is fine playing the piano in a relatively straightforward fashion, or using the modulator to heavily process its notes for an unearthly effect. He treats the Clavinet pretty much the same way, and its distinct tones are made even more alien in the process. Reviewing individual tracks is pointless, as everything from the murky "Mudations" to the closing "Brazing The High Sky Full" (co-written by Braceful and featuring his eccentric vocals) needs to be heard in one go for the full effect. Every track holds its surprises; one particular highlight is "Nothing To Declare", which manages to come closest to jazz. It's also the longest track at ten and a half minutes, not a second of which is wasted. It's somewhat surprising this came out on ECM, as the wild experimentation present here is far removed from the usual ECM sound. Fans of electronic jazz should find plenty to love here, as will adventurous post-rock fans; rock fans may be slightly put off, as this is by no means a rock record, but give it a chance anyway. Somebody really needs to reissue this pronto!


Egg, 1976; out of print

9 tracks, 39:49

Six years after Red Noise's lone LP (reviewed previously on this very blog!), main weirdo Patrick Vian unleashed this electronic rock masterpiece. The son of musician/author/playwright/etc. Boris Vian*, Patrick decided to experiment heavily with Moogs and Arps, aided by a sequencer and some very talented sidemen. Georges Granier provides marimbas, scissors(!), "occult noises"(!!), and Fender Rhodes, while Bernard Lavialle contributes guitar and Mino Cinelu provides percussion. None of the other players shows up very often, with Cinelu contributing to a mere two tracks and Lavialle being easily discernible on just as many. While opening track "Sphère" implies this will be straightforward rock, with its introduction of a powerful riff and some frantic tinkling percussives, Vian soon enters on his synths to add some interesting coloration. This comes very close to sounding like a less Fripp-enthralled Heldon. "Grosse Nacht Musik", on the other hand, is all synth textures, comparing favorably to other electronic music of the time while remaining distinct. No two tracks really sound alike, going from the electro-exotica of "Oreknock" to the sleazy and bluesy "R&B Degenerit!" (this one REALLY sounds like its name!) and ending with the musique concrete of "Tricentennial Drag". Curiously, one of the all-synth numbers (and one of the highlights) is called "Tunnel 4 Red Noise"; it certainly doesn't sound like his former band, but the same sense of whimsy and wonder is present throughout. Every last note has aged gracefully, and there are some bands even now who would give anything to sound this amazing. It almost seems incredible that nobody has seen the need to reissue this; it certainly would give Stereolab, Pram, et al serious competition if it was a new release! This is truly unique electronic music from the period that defined the genre. For the record, the album's title means "similar places and times" in English.

*Do yourself a favor and listen to some Boris Vian. Tracks like the EXTREMELY dirty "Fais Moi Mal Johnny" certainly provide some insight to Patrick's bizarre sense of humor. They're also just plain fun, and catchy as hell!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chillum, CHILLUM... PLUS

Mushroom, 1971; reissued with bonus tracks as CHILLUM...PLUS by See For Miles; availability uncertain

CHILLUM...PLUS: 11 tracks, 66:27

This band has a slightly convoluted history. Keyboardist and vocalist Ken Elliott and drummer Kieran O'Connor were originally in the insanely creative Second Hand, a group that definitely remained psychedelic while also predicting prog rock. After two superb albums (REALITY and DEATH MAY BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS), Second Hand had lost their guitarist. Bassist George Hart, who joined on DEATH MAY BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS, still was in the group, so they auditioned new guitarists. Tony McGill clicked perfectly with the band, so perfectly that his audition evolved into an incredible twenty-plus minute piece of improvised rock, and apparently forced a renaming from Second Hand to Chillum. Coming close to some of the most out-there krautrock jams (Guru Guru and Amon Duul II come to mind), Elliott's pummelling organ and Hart's fluid bass combine with O'COnnor's fierce percussives and McGill's incredibly detailed improvisations. Given the name "Brain Strain" this originally occupied side one of the original CHILLUM LP; on CHILLUM PLUS, which contains the entire sessions, it is in an extended form. The first track on ...PLUS is a miniature bit of laughing contributed by two doctors who frequented the pub next door to the studio; only those present know if the laughter was their genuine response or a skit. Chillum continue on their weird path, at times using O'Connor's snoring as a percussion line (on "Land Of A Thousand Dreams") or giving him four minutes to show off his drumming chops ("Too Many Bananas"). "Yes! We Have No Pajamas" is another extended improv, firing off with no mercy until its ten and a half minutes have come to a stop. Suddenly, "Promenade Des Anglais" pops up, and you wonder if someone's recorded the wrong track. This little number sounds disturbingly somehwere between smooth jazz and muzak, but it is followed by a goofy voice saying "'ere, I thought that was RATHER GOOD! Oh super! What's next?". This nicely gives away the joke, and makes for an impressive end to the original album. The bonus tracks on ...PLUS are fairly good. "Fairy Tale' has interesting music, but is hampered by out-of-place vocals. "Celebration" sounds the most like the album proper, being a fiery improv, while "This Is Not Romance" consists solely of piano and wounded vocals, making for a nice contrast. "Incubator", two takes of which are included, was actually created by the engineer using an oscillator and a rotating speaker; they're interesting little tracks, but nothing more. Chillum essentially imploded during these sessions; O'Connor and Elliott continued on for two albums as the less interesting Seventh Wave and then disappeared. CHILLUM...PLUS, as well as all related projects, would mostly appeal to adventurous progheads and krautrock fans, and it comes highly recommended to them. Adventurous rock fans will probably find a lot to like here as well, but be aware this IS every bit as druggy and spaced out as the band's name implies (a chillum being a device for smoking hashish).

UPDATE: As of 2010, this has been reissued by Sunbeam. This edition restores the original cover and has four bonus tracks: "Celebration" and "This Is Not Romance" reappear, as do the previously unissued "Three Blind Mice" and "The Lone Commuter". I haven't heard them, but hooray to Sunbeam for making this more readily available!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Henri Roger, IMAGES...

Pôle, 1975; reissued by Tapioca; out of print

4 tracks, 47:53

Ah, Pôle Records! I can never get enough of them! This stunner by Henri Roger (his only album for the label) continues in the grand Pôle tradition; hell, the word "Pôle" is rght there on the cover, larger than artist or album title! IMAGES... has a very unique setup. Roger fills side one with the twenty-two minute title track. This is a piece for electric organ, and Roger manages to get some truly impressive sounds and patterns out of his Yamaha. Never staying in one pattern for too long, and never overstaying its welcome, this track alone qualifies this as a masterpiece. Side two opens with "Au Dela Du Langage", for Mini Korg and Elka Rhapsody synthesizers. This nifty composition has a much funkier sound, until it becomes a strange ambient piece midway. Up next is "Ataraxie" for acoustic guitar (there's also either a tambourine or maracas in there). Standing out from the surrounding electronic experimentation, this is a nice little folky piece, constantly developing and providing a nice calm mood. Finally, IMAGES... ends with "Asyle Cosmique", the other obvious highlight. Over ten minutes, Roger layers synths, organ, and guitar to provide a track that effortlessly goes from classic Pôle-style cosmic synthscapes to neo-classical moods to a driving rock finale. At several points, this predicts and betters many later bands and movements; you could say this was a bootleg Tortoise recording and nobody would question you, except Tortoise NEVER sounded this good. IMAGES... is yet another high point in the Pôle catalog, and a must for fans of early electronic music. Unfortunately, as with most Pôle releases, this has been long out of print and is in dire need of a reissue. Henri Roger went on to make more music, all of which is well worth investigating, but IMAGES... remains his masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Franco Battiato, FETUS and POLLUTION

Bla Bla, 1972; reissued several times; available

8 tracks, 30:43

Bla Bla, 1972; reissued several times; available

7 tracks, 33:09

I always found the term "krautrock" to be severely limiting. Given all the weirdness going on in Europe during the '60s and '70s, you'd think a term like "Eurorock" or "continent rock" would have been more accurate (think about how often France and Finland turn up on this blog). Italy's Franco Battiato probably had some idea of what was going on elsewhere. However, he brought a distinct bit of pop to his cosmic sound experimentation. After a short career as a traditional pop singer, Battiato went off into far stranger territory in 1972. FETUS, with its slightly controversial artwork, finds Battiato achieving a blissful middle ground between the accessible and the avant-garde. "Fetus" itself begins with minimal synth and a heartbeat, soon accompanied briefly by Battiato's vocals. He sings entirely in Italian; though an English version exists, this isn't recommeneded, as the lyrics becomes less mysterious and more goofy when translated. Soon, the song becomes a synth workout worthy of prime ELP or Yes, but somehow both more minimal and more effective than either. After this, it only gets better! Given its short length, most of the songs are in and out with absolutely no wasted notes. Examples include the synth-led "Una Cellula" and the delightful piano-rhythm machine-and-violin romp "Cariocinesi". The one exception is the six-minute "Meccanica", which is essentially a mini-suite; it begins with a manic piano-led rush, goes right into a pretty acoustic guitar run, has a moment of piano-and-guitar interplay, and then suddenly slows down. A violin accompanies Battiato's account of having mechanical parts, punctuated with bursts of electric guitar. This gives way to a direct sample of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin talking to Houston and President Nixon. The whole track is one of the hidden treasures of prog, and it alone justifies the purchase; luckily, the other tracks are every bit as good.

Following FETUS, Battiato had intended to release the English version (which was delayed until fairly recently) and tour England with John Cage (!). Unfortunately, a car crash in England put a halt to these plans, leaving one of avant-garde's classic "what if"'s. Going back to Italy, Franco spent his time apparently pondering man's place in the cosmos, which was admittedly a big theme back then. However, his next album, POLLUTION, was far removed from the usual cosmic noodlings of the time. This time around, the pop touches are mostly absent. Instead, the sound is close to Faust-style krautrock, but with a distinct character all its own. The first four tracks (side one on the original LP) are essentially a suite, going from the musique concrete of "Il Silenzio Del Rumore" and "21 Dicembre 1999 - Ore 9" (which is just the sound of two explosions, and is about 20 seconds!) directly into the synth-and-backwards-pronounciations of "Areknames". This in turn leads directly into "Beta", which is the best early Pink Floyd song that they never wrote. The last three tracks are equally as good, despite lacking the unity of the first four; "Plancton" is a delightful cosmic ditty, the title track is an eight-minute epic/mini-suite, and it all ends on another musique concrete note. The same lack of traditional song structure is in full effect throughout. Both albums are recommended, and the Water reissues have amazing sound and great liner notes befitting such classic works.

Battiato would go on to release some more experimental works; SULLE CORDE DI ARIES and CLIC are also worthwhile, but the overly experimental albums that followed would find Battiato playing single piano notes for an entire side at a time. After this, he somehow went right back to pop music, to the point that the majority of his catalog would not interest fans of his early work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pekka Airaksinen, ONE POINT MUSIC

1972, O Records; out of print

6 tracks, 39:25

Pekka Airaksinen's work with The Sperm has been previously documented here. Released two years after SHH!, ONE POINT MUSIC finds Airaksinen (assisted by A. Deblus and Antero Helander) still very much in experimental mode. Actually, this material was all recorded from 1968 to 1970, during Airaksinen's tenure with the Sperm. It also was primarily created in his converted sauna studio. Mostly featuring electric organ, guitar, and bass (though the source of most of the sounds is pretty hard to determine), these six tracks are mostly lighter in tone than SHH!, but they still feature plenty of unexpected and even jarring moments. The opening track (bearing the ponderous title "Pieni Sienikonsertto - A Little Soup for Piano and Orchestra op. 46.8"!) does indeed feature a piano off in the distance; however, it is obscured by some odd metal clangs and random bursts of strange noises (including some backwards guitar). "Somerain-Sedata" and "Skata" bear the closest comparison to Airaksinen's former group, consisting mostly of heavily effected and echoed guitar sounds. The remaining three tracks sound even more like industrial music that The Sperm ever did (and again, before the term was even coined), while also veering close to the likes of Smegma and Birgé-Gorgé-Shiroc in the '70s strangeness department. Sadly only ever pressed in a run of 120 copies(?!?!), this is nearly impossible to find and sorely in need of a reissue. Until then, this will continue to be a mostly unheard masterpiece.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Wave Retrospectives: DNA, DNA ON DNA and Mars, MARS LP

2004, No More Records; available

32 tracks, 63:04

2004, G3G/Spooky Sound; reissued by No More Records; available

11 tracks, 32:04

No wave was one of those fringe things that nobody expected to be remembered. Centered around downtown New York, no wave was a reaction to the staleness of punk (which had only existed officially for a little over a year!) and music in general. Several bands were completely self-taught; some were professionally trained, but they ignored this in a search for pure release through sound. Bands denied the name anyway, but history (and rock journalism) has made it stick. The scene was officially dead by 1982, and that's being generous. Some figures, like Lydia Lunch and Arto Lindsay, went on to other projects and relatively greater fame. Others faded into obscurity, making a few select appearances and nothing more. Strangely, around the time it died, no wave's impact began to be felt. The whole nihilism and deconstructionist attitude of the "movement" had been absorbed into many strains of experimental and extreme music, both in and outside of New York (see the late 80's downtown scene, the whole slew of noise rock bands, Silver Abuse, Blurt, Crawling Chaos, Fire Engines, Der Plan, D.A.F., Sonic Youth, Live Skull, Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, etc.). Even the more traditional industrial bands had started to show a distinct no wave influence. Fast forward to the early-to-mid-90's. A no wave revival has started in Chicago (see the excellent Lake Of Dracula and Quintron's truly bizarre debut LP I.F. 001-011). Japanese bands like Melt-Banana and Space Streakings are producing their own bizarre takes on no wave. Sonic Youth, admittedly the most successful no wave-inspired band, are considered godfathers of indie. Now look at the past nine years. Liars, Sightings, and other bands proudly declare no wave as an influence. Right when everyone was beginning to accept no wave as a minor but influential blip on the experimental radar, No More Records issued (well, reissued in the case of MARS LP) two retrospectives of the originals. The question is: How do they sound now, with the passage of time?

Surprisingly, DNA and Mars both still have the ability to enthrall, annoy, and disturb, usually all at once. Both compilations are arranged chronologically, and each contains the complete studio output of the band represented, along with very informative booklets. DNA is bolstered with an unreleased studio track and several live tracks. Only two of the tracks are over three minutes in length: the previously unreleased "Grapefruit" at nearly five minutes, and the live "Surrender" at just under four. Every other track is between fifty seconds and just under three minutes. However, not a single second is wasted: DNA knew how to get maximum impact out of every song, and even the rare moments of silence are important to the compositions. The progression is striking over the span of the disc. Beginning as a trio with guitarist/vocalist Arto Lindsay, drummer Ikue Mori, and keyboardist/vocalist Robin Crutchfield, DNA were comparable to hardly anything else. The debut single ("You & You"/"Little Ants") is perhaps the most extreme output; Crutchfield's bouncy electronics and Mori's tribal-esque drumming anchor the songs, allowing Lindsay to go wild on both guitar and vocals. The man can sound like a poet speaking abstract verse or a possessed preacher declaring fire and brimstone upon his pagan cult. Sometimes he does this in the same song, making for a delightfully odd contrast. The band's next recordings were four tracks for the infamous Brian Eno-produced NO NEW YORK compilation. This finds a more subdued DNA producing the garagey "Egomaniac's Kiss" and the punky "Size". However, "Lionel" and "Not Moving" (featuring a rare vocal turn from Crutchfield) are still fairly unhinged exercises in noise. Soon after this recording, Crutchfield left to form the excellent Dark Day (a synth-oriented no wave treasure best experienced on the unfortunately rare COLLECTED (1979-1982)); Tim Wright, formerly of Pere Ubu, was his replacement, and he was definitely a smart choice! Wright's bass playing was somehow rhythmic, melodic, and completely abstract. This is most evident on A TASTE OF DNA. This six-song EP contains under ten minutes of the most radical rock deconstruction ever committed to tape. Several songs feature Lindsay spouting Portuguese in addition to English, and Wright produces the kind of basslines many lesser bands would kill for. "Blonde Redhead" (yes, the band got their name from the song) and ""New Fast" particularly stand out, but the whole EP is a joyous burst of true creativity. Next up is the unreleased studio track "Grapefruit", which isn't a lost classic track by any means. Still, it does feature Lindsay's wordless chanting over a fairly minimalist instrumental track, and its length qualifies it as DNA's sole "epic", so it's a worthy inclusion. The following six tracks are instrumentals recorded for "the Squat Theatre's Obie winning MR. DEAD & MS. FREE", whatever that is; they also surfaced on the FRUIT OF THE ORIGINAL SIN compilation. They have an almost dubby production, most apparent on the pseudo-gothic "Delivering The Good". All six of them are well worth hearing as examples of DNA's restrained side. The remaining fourteen tracks are all live, featuring both incarnations of the band. Sadly, the legendary last encore cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" didn't make it (damn it!)*, but what did is truly fascinating despite a bit of questionable sound. Considering the source is original tapes, though, this is hardly worth complaining about. Only "5:30" from A TASTE OF DNA is reprised in the live tracks, and in a VERY different early version. The rest are unique to DNA's live sets, with the only other duplication being two versions of "Detached", one from each lineup. It's hard to pick standouts since all are great performances, but I particularly dig "Brand New" and "Calling To Phone". Given that it's basically DNA's complete discography, this is an absolutely essential CD.

MARS LP is barely half the length of DNA ON DNA, and it also contains no live recordings. However, the studio output of Mars was so awe-inspiring, it is perfectly suitable that it stands on its own. Originally formed as a nameless Velvet Underground cover band in 1975, and briefly performing as China, Mars can lay claim to being the first true no wave band. The band was formed by the late Sumner Crane (guitar and vocals), the late Nancy Arlen (drums), China Burg (a.k.a. Don Burg, Connie Burg, and Lucy Hamilton; guitar, vocals), and Mark Cunningham (bass, voice). Mars didn't get around to recording until 1977. That year saw the recording of their debut single. A-side "3E" was surprisingly normal, definitely betraying the Velvet Underground influence and giving little clue as to what lie on the flipside. That piece of music was "11,000 Volts", a shambling, discordant, shrieking mess of a song detailing a sadistic inventor and his robot slave. It is every bit as great as that sounds. Sadly, the release of this got delayed until 1978, during which time they got a slot on NO NEW YORK as well. Their four tracks showed a regression in sound, becoming denser and noisier while still maintaining an aura of professionalism. "Helen Forsdale" has guitars imitating the sounds of insects and "Hairwaves" simulates radio waves via feedback. Standout (and shortest of the four) "Puerto Rican Ghost" sounds like a coed Can during a drunken rampage, guitars violently see-sawing back and forth to angular drums and a throbbing bassline, with hallucinatory vocals not so much sung as shrieked in the voice of the damned. Finally in December of 1978, Mars was invited by Lust/Unlust Records owner Charles Ball to record an EP. Arto Lindsay was invited as producer, but since recording was accomplished via two binaural microphones set up in the center of an abandoned theater's stage, there wasn't much producing to be done. This odd recording betrays the sheer freedom that goes into these five tracks. Veering close to free improv and noise, tracks like "N.N. End" and "The Immediate Stages Of The Erotic" feature completely improvised vocal sounds (not lyrics, though) and the most abstract music on the disc. "Scorn" is based around the transcripted ramblings of a homeless friend of the band's and a horn played without its mouthpiece. Live recordings have revealed that there was a structure behind the madness, but it's not very apparent upon listening. This EP was delayed until 1980; in that time, the master became damaged in a flood, resulting in several lost frequencies. For MARS LP, a freshly discovered cassette master was used, allowing these recordings to be heard properly for the first time. Mars' studio output was previously reissued by Lydia Lunch's Widowpseak as 78, and then by Atavistic as 78+, but these releases were "reprocessed" by J.G. Thirlwell, which added heavier bass and more guitar noise; this was supposed to aid the lost frequencies of the EP, but the results are mixed. It also substituted live versions of "N.N. End" and "Scorn". It did have a few other live tracks that MARS LP is missing, but the MARS LP set makes it obsolete. This is also essential.

Mars did team up with Lindsay and Mori to record JOHN GAVANTI, a strange no wave opera which was heavy on wind instruments. It still has moments of guitar noise and lots of dissonant drumming, and it's also the closest no wave ever got to free jazz. Several Mars and DNA members ended up in post-no wave outfit Don King, producing a slightly more restrained version of what they had done previously. Crane and Arlen passed away, Crane in 2003 and Arlen three years later. Crutchfield continued to record as Dark Day and has released music under his own name. Arto Lindsay and Ikue Mori both became darlings of downtown NYC, racking up impressive discographies (especially Lindsay, contributing impressively to recordings by the Lounge Lizards and the Golden Palominos, as well as his duo Ambitious Lovers). Cunningham and Wright have had sporadic recording careers. Burg makes a few guest appearances now and then on other former no waver's albums. DNA called it quits in 1982, essentially ending no wave proper. Mars had thrown in the towel after recording MARS EP back in 1978. Still, the music continues to provide insight into a period where everyone involved was absolutely free and interested in truly pushing music to its absolute limits.

Dedicated to the memory of Nancy Arlen and Sumner Crane.

*UPDATE: The double LP release of DNA ON DNA does include "Whole Lotta Love", along with three newly discovered tracks and the encore version of "A New Low" from the last show.