Saturday, April 24, 2010
Cobra, 1978; reissued by Spalax and Cuneiform; available
CD: 8 tracks, 51:28
It was only a matter of time before Heldon got reviewed here. Essentially the brainchild of guitar/synth wizard Richard Pinhas, Heldon was one of many French acts that were oddly similar to krautrock. Named after a town in Paul Spinrad's THE IRON DREAM, the project is definitely Fripp worship of the highest quality; in other words, the influence is there, but Pinhas remains VERY distinctive in his approach. INTERFACE is Heldon's sixth album (in three years of existence!), and it was recorded with a core trio of Pinhas, long-term drummer/multi-instrumentalist François Auger, and keyboardist Patrick Gauthier. This is usually considered Heldon's strongest configuration, and with good reason. Long-term bassist Didier Batard shows up on a track as well. Song-wise, this finds Heldon at the peak of their creativity. The three short, almost disco-esque "Soucoupes Volantes" tracks on the original A-side are still astonishing electronic pieces that haven't aged one jot. The two longer A-side pieces, "Jet Girl" and "Bal-A-Fou", are equally impressive. The two-part "Jet Girl" sounds particularly grand, slowing down and changing slightly about halfway through while maintaining an evil pulse midway between motorik and space rock. The original B-side was occupied by the nineteen-minute title track, and what a track! Starting with minimal drum and synth atmospheres, Pinhas' piercing guitar eventually swoops in for the kill. Not a minute is wasted, even if the final bluesy notes are a little out of place. For the Cuneiform CD, two extracts of a live performance of "Interface" are sandwiched between the original sides. These snippets isolate particularly ferocious live takes on the piece, and they don't disrupt the flow whatsoever. While most Pinhas and Heldon releases are worthwhile, INTERFACE is a personal favorite and an excellent entry point.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Father Yod/Ecstatic Peace!, 1994; reissued by Compound Annex; available but limited
Three discs, each with its own title. Disc 1 ("Gospel Crusade"): 25 tracks, 71:19; disc 2 ("Crying In Bed"): 27 tracks, 69:11; disc 3 ("To The Throne Of Chaos Where The Thin Flutes Pipe Mindlessly"): 24 tracks, 66:54
When mentioned at all, Destroy All Monsters are generally considered a post-Stooges Ron Asheton project. With all respect due to the late Mr. Asheton, DAM were actually past their innovative prime by the time he joined! The original quartet of Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw assembled in winter of '74 with the intent of deconstructing rock music. Inspired in equal parts by European experimentation, proto-punk a la Stooges and MC5, and the outer realms of jazz, they created a truly unique sound that can't readily be assigned to a specific era. That being said, ths box does indeed cover the years 1974 to 1976; there's no indication as to whether the material is presented chronologically, but that's okay. Sure, there's a few fairly straightforward proto-punkers featuring Niagara's sultry vocals like "Vampire", "T.H. Queen" and "You Can't Kill Kill"; also, the apparently live version of "Shakin' All Over" is surprisingly faithful to the original. Don't be fooled, though; these concessions to accessibility are few and far between. The majority of these tracks are pure experiments in sound, whether it's the nightmarish tape manipulations of "Mom's and Dad's Pussy" or the self-explanatory "Drone" and "Crunch Drone". There's also room for dubby sound explorations and primitive drum machine exercises, along with nearly every other experimental style you can think of. It's almost impossible to pick standouts, since there is a LOT of material to pick through and even the lesser tracks are impressive with enough repeat listens. Keeping in mind that this predated punk and industrial as genres (to say nothing of later developments such as no wave), this is incredibly ahead of its time, and it's even more amazing to think none of this got released until 1994! About the only comparable contemporaries were Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle; there are definite similarities, but honestly all three were highly original outfits that started around the same time and were unaware of the others until later. In DAM's case, hardly anyone outside of the group itself was aware of their innovations until years later. Needless to say this comes highly recommended. While the reissue isn't as fancy as the original box, the music is all intact and it IS available again, and shouldn't that matter the most? Around '76 most of the members left except for Niagara, who continued Destroy All Monsters with new members (most notably Asheton and ex-MC5 bassist Michael Davis). This period of DAM is enjoyable, but don't expect it to sound a jot like the box. The original lineup has basically reformed and tours/records semi-regularly in their original proto-noise style.
Read the liner notes for this set (written by Mike Kelley himself) here: http://www.mikekelley.com/DAMthrone.html . http://www.mikekelley.com/compound.html has 74 76 for sale along with other DAM/Kelley-related products.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Vanguard, 1967; available
8 track, 44:46
The late John Fahey has always been one of my favorite musical enigmas. Mostly kown for redefining folk (and hating hippies and New Age!), he had a surprisingly adventurous side. REQUIA (subtitled AND OTHER COMPOSITIONS FOR GUITAR SOLO, which isn't entirely accurate) is one of his best early forays into experimental turf. The A-side is typical Fahey: raga/blues/folk fusion guitar excursions played with flair and that distinct Fahey touch. The long "Requiem For Rusell Blaine Cooper" and "When The Catfish Is In Bloom" are particularly delightful, and "Requiem For John Hurt" is pretty good too! The B-side is where it gets weird. The four-part "Requiem For Molly" dominates this side, and it calls Fahey's distaste for psychedelia into question. This epic finds Fahey accompanied by "special effects", IE, musique concrete! Bits and pieces of old blues records, lions roaring, seals barking, public speeches, and other found sounds float under Fahey's irresistible guitar. Oddly enough, the melody for "Part Three" is actually "California Dreaming"! The Mamas and the Papas aren't credited, but there's no mistaking it; in the end that's okay since it actually adds to the collage effect. The effects never really match up with the playing, and Fahey would complain later that he was drunk at the session and the tapes weren't properly cued. However, Fahey was also his own harshest critic, and the piece still sounds remarkable today despite its flaws. The album closes with the brief yet delightful "Fight On Christians, Fight On", leaving the listener wanting more. Luckily, there is a lot more! GUITAR VOL. 4, THE YELLOW PRINCESS, and THE LEGEND OF BLIND JOE DEATH are especially good early works that mix brave experimentation and gorgeous acoustic playing, while the late-period CITY OF REFUGE, THE MILL-POND, and WOMBLIFE would appeal to far more adventurous listeners with their severely dark and abstract nature (the former has particularly aggressive notes by Fahey; I repeat, he REALLY didn't like hippies!). The one-off collaboration with Cul De Sac, THE EPIPHAY OF GLENN JONES, is also quite listenable and interesting. There really isn't a bad Fahey album, but REQUIA is definitely a nice cross section of the man's many sides and is probably the best introduction to his marvelous catalog.