Sunday, November 30, 2014

W. Ash




Always dug this album cover - and the name of the group -- since first seeing it in a book about billboards that someone gave me and my brothers when were kids. It looked really cool as a billboard -  an enigma astride the freeway (probably here in LA actually).

Here's the whole gatefold spread of it, which now I think of it, was used in full on the billboard - logically, enough, given that billboards are oblong not square.




Wish Wishbone Ash's music were teensy bit more exciting... the twin lead guitar thing is pleasing and moderately dynamic (although not  as driving and low-slung as Thin Lizzy's).   The archetypal second-on-the-bill Brits-in-America stadium act, said someone (Carducci?).  They've got a sound that's just distinctive enough. Argus is considered the (minor) classic.

Packaging-wise these gatefolds are also nice.







But this next one is yer classic mid-to-late 70s mainstream rock album cover, where the Hygnosis-type visual joke / saucy pun (see also UFO's Force It) is going off the boil, Most likely matching the contents of the record too.







Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

moth music



Janez Matičič - Slovenian composer

"This non-progressive piece is composed of several sequences, each introducing an additional element and ending with a twist. A quiet swaying from one framework to the next constantly defines the sound quality of the piece, just like blurry visions tantalize the dreamer one after another" - Recollection GRM blurb for this 1975 piece on Traces Three.

i want the rest of "Trois Visions"


Monday, November 10, 2014

when uncommercial was commercial



i go through quite long periods of time where i just forget about Captain Beefheart - that he ever existed

a variant of the Drops Away theory is that as time goes by what makes  an artist seem weird and exceptional and out-there recedes somewhat as you come to hear how s/he is embedded in a broader musical  landscape, a sonic episteme

in Beefheart's case the landscape back into which he Drops is blues-based rock  

listen nowadays and you can hear more clearly the affinity, the proximity, with other music being made  at that time -  Groundhogs, ZZ Top, Family -- even Free and James Gang

(and with the earliest stuff you hear the proximity to garage punkadelia of that time -- all the Them-etc spurred stuff in America, or groups like Thirteenth Floor Elevators and The Hombres)

(you also hear the proximity-verging-on-identical-ness to Howlin' Wolf)

however, it still sounds pretty out-there, pretty sui generis

with Clear Spot, some of the dropping-back-into-background already takes place,  is done for you - with the attempted commercialism / accessibility (failing of course, although I must confess it's my favourite album of his)

but hey, talking about commercial crossover, did you know that Trout Mask Replica was a Top 30 hit in the UK? It got to #21.

And Lick My Decals Off, Baby did even better -- it got to Number 20.

So Beefheart's his biggest success was when he was most untrammeled, most artistically-free

there was an audience, a market, for that then - 1969 and 1970 was the zenith of the Underground

"uncommercial" was commercial



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Disappointing Albums

The topic today is albums that follow a masterpiece that, you discover, turns out to have been the career peak - as good as they'd ever get. 

Or, in a few cases, a temporary falling-off that is soon corrected. For a while.

Exhibit One

 The Beat – Wha’ppen



Did actually buy the first or was it second single off this - ‘Drowning’ . Seem to recall the concept was they were going psychedelic. But it just sounds really enervated, all the delicious twitchy tension in I Just Can't Stop It era Beat went slack.

Some speak highly of Special Beat Service - never listened to it. 

B52s, Mesopotamia



After the first two, so so disappointing. and I think there was even a really lame remix version of the album. Produced by David Byrne, here proving to have the anti-Midas touch

Talking of which.....

Talking Heads, Speaking In Tongues




In a 1983 take-down Barney Hoskyns identified a syndrome at work:


"For important groups, the fatal turning point is always the same: when there's no way to stretch further, only the past to rediscover. Groups will always look over their shoulders, gaze fondly back at the innocence of the first tunes, written when commercial success seemed not only improbable but irrelevant....  In Talking Heads' case, it's only amazing it hasn't happened before. To push rock beyond Fear Of Music, to open it into 'Listening Wind' and 'Once In A Lifetime', was extraordinary. What would you do if you'd made the supreme disco version of WASP paranoia — perfectly justifying David Byrne's contention that black dance production was more radical than punk rock — then expanded disco into an oceanic, subliminal trancefest? The pub-rock revival starts there, right?

Gang of Four – Solid Gold 


Tried so very hard to get into this, having coughed up my month’s album buying money, hard earned at the egg stall in Berkhamsted's Saturday market.  Recall being very nervous about buying it on account of hearing bits on the radio and also the uninspired, leaden 1980 single "Outside the Trains Don't Run On Time". Approaching the counter in a sort of red-hazy mist of anxiety. Which turned out to be justified.

Didn't even bother with Go4 after this, Songs of the Free and "To Hell With Poverty" etc. And let's not even talk about Hard, influenced as it was by Lexicon of Love. Bringing us neatly to... 

ABC – Beauty Stab 



And even worse was How to Be A Zillionaire.

Heaven 17 – the Luxury Gap



Following on the supremely up to the minute, ahead of the game, very entertaining and clever Penthouse and Pavement, and the pretty exciting between-albums single "Let Me Go", this was....  most unsatisfying. 

Didn't bother with How Men Are at all


Grace Jones, Living My Life



S'alriiiiiight..  But no Nightclubbing


Elvis Costello and the Attractions  – Goodbye Cruel World


Goodbye Cool Career more like. After seven great albums in a row (discounting Almost Blue as an aberration, a detour) (eight, though if we count Ten Hail Marys / Taking Liberties) and coming immediately after the upful high of Punch The Clock... what went wrong? 

For the 1995 reissue of Goodbye Cruel World, EC penned an in-depth inventory / diagnosis/ mea culpa as regards its defects.  The opening lines are:
"Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album. At least that is the impression I've given over the years and I am sure that you could find many people who would agree with me. "
The whole sorry business got hashed over again, with a tad more hindsight-wise serenity, in the 2004 reissue liner notes .

Good Lord, if ever an album didn't deserve to get reissued once, let alone twice, it would be Goodbye Cruel World.

So bereft is it, it earns the privilege of two videos in this run-down of let-down. The making of the below horror also gets described in those GCW reish linernotes. 




The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come


Mystifyingly rated by Moz and Marr as their best album.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seed – the Firstborn is Dead


After the incredible From Her To Eternity... this just seemed hokey, clunky, and tune-deficient. Funny Folkways style pseudo-ethnological sleevenotes, sure. However it turned out to be a brief mis-step, with Cave rising again with the covers album Kicking Against the Pricks, Your Funeral... My Trial, and "The Mercy Seat"

Siouxsie and the Banshees, Hyena


After the sublime self-reinvention of Kiss in the Dreamhouse, and the pausing-for-breath, career-summation live album Nocturne, this is where it all sputters out. But at least it's ungainly, struggles to renew,  whereas Tinderbox (which I reviewed for Melody Maker, damningly) was just tepid and pro forma. 


Cocteau Twins, Treasure


Some love this record, I just find it unbearably frou-frou and precious. Then followed some odd, hard-to-get into EPs but eventual reflorescence with the Budd collaboration, "Love's Easy Tears" and Bluebell Knoll.

Just looked over their discography  and suddenly realised that I don't recall ever having listened to Victorialand, which is listed as an album. 


Prince -  Parade

Now I was going to  nominate Parade but the truth is the whole rhythm of releases during his alleged Creative Prime goes GENIUS Dud Dud GENIUS Dud Dud GENIUS

When I say Dud, I mean that while the single(s) might be great and probably one other good track on the album, overall it's a pretty poor record.

So GENIUS would be Dirty Mind, Purple Rain, Sign of the Times

Dud would be Controversy, 1999, Around the World In A Day, Parade

That’s regardless of the genius of ‘Controversy’ the single, ‘1999’, ‘Pop Life’, ‘Kiss’ etc


Okay, now for the piss de resistance, the absolute Golden Manky Turkey, the glistening black turd of Disappointing Albums....









Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Laughter



Following the half-great Do It Yourself,  the terrific big-big-hit "Reasons To Be Cheerful , Part 3" and that monster Blockheads tour of the entire length and breadth of the UK, the band's melodist and musical director Chas Jankel quit, exhausted by proximity to Dury's overpowering personality. 

His replacement Wilko Johnson has many virtues but he's not a tunesmith. The first fruits of the new line-up, the single  "I Wanna Be Straight" just about made it through chutzpah and greasy funk. But then this lumbering hookless single "Sueperman's Big Sister" came out, herald of the album Laughter -  and there was a sicky feeling in the stomach. 

Just about the only interesting thing about "Sueperman's Big Sister"is that at least one reviewer thought it  was about Dury's recent "encounter" with Vanessa Redgrave. I don't know whether that's a euphemism or not, but the idea of those two converging in space-time is quite a thing to contemplate. 

Laughter's reviews were positive, though (clearly in retrospect looking desperately for reasons to be cheerful). So I shelved my apprehensions, ponied up the cash. What a waste, what a waste.... and I ruddy well did mind. A LOT.  

Only one half-way amusing tune ("Over The Points" - sung from the point of view of a train - "Sometimes we track this line with decapitated schoolboy's heads still wearing their caps/ Upon me at any given moment ten or twelve people might be taking craps"...).  Otherwise it's pub-funk rowdiness all the way, with titles like "(Take Your Elbow Out of the Soup) You're Sitting On the Chicken", and "Uncoolohol", "Oh Mr Peanut"  and "Dance of the Crackpots".  A cover of "Manic Depression" apparently fitting the mood-swingin' mental state of both Dury (not coping well with fame - see the LP's "Delusions of Grandeur" - and addicted to booze and Mogadon)  and guitarist John Turnbull, who'd suffered a head injury.  

Apparently Dury called it Laughter to cheer himself up, because the experience of making the album - and the end product - was so miserable.



And that was it for Ian Dury really, sadly.... the reunion with Jankel for Lord Upminster ignited few sparks, even with Sly & Robbie in the engine room. 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

But of course with all of the above you can get into thinking that you might be up for reevaluating some of these duffers, things you once dismissed or got rid of – in those days I was always selling off things to raise funds to get other stuff, being a cash-poor sixth former or student or dole-claimer... 

Like maybe just maybe there’s something salvageable to be found on them...

All these examples are postpunk or first half of the Eighties, which probably reflects the fact that I felt the disappointment more harshly when I was paying my own money, whether it was hard-earned from the egg stall or gardening or odd-jobbing (and one summer packing insecticide at the Wellcome factory) or it was cutting into my limited stipend from the state -  student grant, then later supplementary benefit....

By 1986, though, I would be getting records for free as a journalist, so when a duffer came through I'd be scathing if reviewing it, but it wouldn't sting in quite the same way. Or it might sting, if one had invested a lot of critical capital in supporting and hailing the artist. But you moved on quickly, for there was always a new thing to hype and have high hopes about. You'd take the offending article down the M&VE and convert it into something good or intriguing, usually from the past. 

But yeah disappointing albums after the mid-80s...  I would have to say the two records the Pixies did after Doolittle are just nothing. 

And Goo, following Daydream Nation -- tres disappointing.

Hunkpapa by Throwing Muses, after an incredible run, was merely solid.... and which I gave a "they can do better" ticking-off type review, which upset the band.  They did do better, soon, and got more praisefulreviews from me. 

The electronic era is another kettle - examples of let-down would include Ultramarine United Kingdoms, Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do (save for "Alberto Balsam"), and Foul Play with "Total Control" b/w "The Stepper" (and if I'm honest, the album Suspected)...


^^^^^^^^^^^^^

There is a separate category for Disappointing Debut Albums, coming after a lot of press-generated expectations, some cool singles.... One obvious example being A Certain Ratio's To Each..... (although it's a moot point whether the Graveyard and the Ballroom cassette counts as a debut LP - I would say not). But that's a topic that will have to wait for now...  


Stop Press: Loads of good suggestions in comments and also on Facebook, the one that struck me as a big omission in terms of personal disappointments would be:

The Associates, Perhaps



Really badly missing the magic of Alan Rankine....   Sort of camp without delight.  Solemn camp. 

Admittedly this song / vocal performance is great, and nice beetling bass work



This one's a stiff, though







Ariel's got to be into Todd








beauty lies in the eye



Sonic Youth Music Video for "Beauty Lies in the Eye" off the album Sister. Directed by Kevin Kerslake

Never knew this existed!

Came to it through a description of the video and the song in an old Steven Shaviro essay titled "Beauty Lies In the Eye": 


52 Postmodern beauty would be the event in which the free play of the 
faculties turns inside out to affirm singularity and multiplicity. The faculties 
are not harmonized, but each is pushed to its limits. In the beautiful this inter- 
rogation of the limit, turned into an affirmation, takes place entirely immanently, 
without the negativity and the hints of transcendence that are still present 
even in Lyotard's postmodern sublime. Beauty will be singular and immanent, 
or not at all. 

53 All this points to an aestheticism somewhat similar to that of the late 
Barthes and the late Foucault. Such aestheticism is often criticized as being 
apolitical. But it stands as a reproach to the endeavours of William Bennett 
and others on the Right to reduce culture and beauty to matters of virtue and 
morality. 

54 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' is a song from Sonic Youth's 1987 album Sister. 
The sound is dissonant and thickly layered. There is no melody to speak of. 
The tempo is moderately slow. Steve Shelley's drums keep up a steady beat. 
Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's guitars twang in unison. The guitars 
have been treated to produce a muddy, reverberating sound. They drone 
through a series of unresolved minor chords. Everything seems fuzzy, slightly 
out of focus. 

55 This music doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't build to a climax. It ends as 
uncertainly as it began. It just drifts, for two minutes and fifteen seconds. Yet it 
is not laid back. It is too nervous and edgy. It exudes an air of restlessness, with 
a hint of violence. Something could explode at any moment. Something has 
just happened, or is about to happen. The music is heavy with premonitions. 
Overtones ring out. The drums speed up to double time. A single note insis- 
tently repeats. An extra guitar line snakes through the wall of sound. These 
variations unfold at the very edge of hearing. They appear briefly. Then they 
fade back into the mix. They seem to portend a greater change in the offing. 
But the future they look forward to does not arrive. The song remains distant 
and impassive. It inhabits an empty time, a time that never passes. This music 
lies suspended between memory and anticipation. 

56 The video for 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' confounds things even further. It 
is a dazzling blur of strobe effects, overlaid images, and vivid colours. Dropped 
frames make for ripples of jerky motion. The camera tilts to extreme angles. It 
zooms in on the smallest details. Thurston Moore's fingers pick out chords on 
the guitar. Kim Gordon's lips caress the microphone. Waves churn in the 
ocean. Two, three, or more images appear at once on the screen. They pass 
through each other, like ghosts. They bleed into each other, leaving tracks of 
light in their wakes. They melt into smears of highly saturated colour. 
Everything wavers and flows. Everything dissolves into a synesthetic haze. 


57 Kim Gordon's voice alone emerges intact. Her words come through 
clearly, with an almost palpable presence. She speaks the lyrics, more than she 
sings them. She recites them slowly, nearly without expression. Her intonation 
is flat and matter-of-fact. The blankness of her voice seems at odds with what 
she is saying. For the lyrics themselves are laden with emotion. They are all 
about loss, regret, and yearning. Kim is taken by surprise. An old, forgotten 
love comes back to haunt her. 'Something in the air there . . . brings you back 
to me. It's been so long'. The past returns, unbidden and unwanted. 'It's 
coming coming down over me'. It sweeps through her, in an overwhelming 
rush. It seizes her, beyond all hope of forgetting. She is troubled by feelings 
long dead and gone. She is seduced by a lover who is no longer there. She 
searches out the eyes of someone who cannot return her gaze. 

58 That is why Kim Gordon's voice is blank. The passion is real enough. 
But she cannot claim it as her own. This love does not unfold in the time and 
space of the present. It happens in an empty time, a time that is not now. It 
takes place in a space removed, a space that is not here. It draws Kim outside 
of herself. It lures her into its own alien depths. She cannot contain the 
'explosions in [her] eye'. She cannot possess the vision that drives her mad. 
She can neither recover the past, nor free herself from its spell. The memories 
that haunt her belong to somebody else. 'Beauty lies in the eyes of another's 
dreams. Beauty lies lost in another's dream'. 

59 No song has the power to recover such a dream. No song can compen- 
sate for loss. No song can bridge the gap between one person and another. 
'Beauty Lies in the Eye' does not even try. Its words, like its sounds, are forever 
incomplete. Beauty is not a recompense for anything that has been lost. 
Beauty is rather the pang of loss itself, its truest expression. It cannot be 
shared, and it cannot be preserved. It vanishes in the very act by which I 
apprehend it. I can only cry out, a witness to its passing. At the end of the 
song, there's a subtle shift in tone. Kim Gordon's voice is no longer entirely 
blank. It becomes imploring, almost wistful. She calls to someone who is not 
there and who will never answer: 'Hey baby . . . Hey sweetheart . . . Hey fox 
come here ... Hey beautiful ... Come here, sugar'. 

61 Any theory of beauty is always inadequate to its examples.