Tuesday, December 16, 2014

IN PRAISE OF... SOME DESCENDENTS ALBUMS PEOPLE DON'T OFTEN PRAISE

What the fuck. Blogger tells me my visitation stats go up when I discuss PUNK ROCK, so I'll give the punters what they want. The past three months has seen my heavily revisiting the Descendents' mid- to late '80s catalogue, and if you can give me a reasonable explanation for this strange turn of events, outside of a pathetic midlife crisis, then you can inform my therapist. I can't quite pinpoint the exact moment when this all began, but you can possibly blame Spotify - that's right, blame Spotify for everything - and the random nature in which I frequently use its wares. The urge hit me, the urge became a daily compulsion, and lo and behold, within 2 weeks I had purchased, as a man of 42 years of age (getting awfully close to 43), the band's I Don't Want To Grow Up, Enjoy! and All LPs from 1985, '6 and '7, respectively.

Y' see, I had never actually owned any of these discs. I previously only owned Milo Goes To College, and that was it. My brother had/has the latter Descendents discs, and as I have explained time and again - as was the case with the Cramps and Ramones - when a sibling owns the catalogue of a certain artist when you're growing up, and you ingest said catalogue a lot during your formative years (enough for a lifetime, in some cases), it can take a good 20-year period before you wind up owning the records of your own will at a later date. Anyway, this is all very fucking fascinating - the crux of the matter is that I bought 'em, Greg Ginn can continue to get high off the sales and now I'd like to discuss 'em.


I Don't Want To Grow Up was originally released in 1985 on Watt/Boon's New Alliance label (later issued in 1987 on SST, when the imprint was sold to Ginn and co.), and was the band's first reformation album, after they went on hold for two years while Milo Aukerman went to college and drummer Bill Stevenson travelled and recorded like a man possessed with Black Flag. It's definitely a different sounds to its predecessors: Milo Goes To College possesses a raw, punchy garage-rock sound not unlike Angry Samoans (the 1981 Fat EP is an even rawer and more hardcore affair, an awesome slice of SoCal teen-punk damaged by Jealous Again), but the follow-up, certainly influenced by Stevenson's time in the 'Flag fold, saw the band develop a slightly 'heavier' and musically sluggish approach. Not that it's bad by any stretch, but the music's tempo sometimes sounds a tad askew, such as on the opener, 'Descendents' (am I wrong in saying that it sounds like the music has almost been cut at the wrong speed?). Anyway, this is by no means a turd on any level, featuring A-grade cuts like 'Can't Go Back', 'My World' (Milo channelling Loose Nut-era Hank there), 'Silly Girl', 'Good Good Things' and more. The one odd duck is 'In Love This way', which trades the heavy rifferama for a light twang and upbeat pop tune, recalling the band's roots ca. 1979 with their very embryonic 'Ride The Wild' 7" (when they were a Devo/Beach Boys-influenced New Wave band). Back in high school I thought the track in question sucked, even comparing it to The Smiths (the ultimate insult of the era), but that was a statement opined from a clueless teen and not an audio fact. I Don't Want To Grow Up is a good, good thing. I'm giving it a B+.


1986's Enjoy! was an even better thing, and certainly their most eclectic disc to date. The band's rampant misogyny and toilet humour went unabated and unchecked, and I'd be far less forgiving of some of the record's stupidity and lame fart jokes if the music itself wasn't so great. Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson remained in the band, as did guitarist Ray Cooper, and for the album they roped in Doug Carrion, who only ever played on this Descendents longplayer. Produced by Stevenson, it has a fairly dry sound with a super-tight rhythm section and a guitar which bleeds no warmth, but the almost tight-assed, sterile sound works to its advantage. There's some more metallic stews happenin' here, such as 'Hurtin' Crue', which sounds to me like more of a metal pisstake than the real thing, as well as mid-tempo Hard Rockers like 'Days Are Blood', which again saw Milo delving into a Rollinsesque life-is-pain schtick, the kind of thing which would be a riches of embarrassments in lesser hands, but in the case of mid '80s Descendents, it showed the world they were growing up. There's some primo New Wave-influenced punker aktion on display here - 'Get The Time' and '80s Girl' - and the cover of the Beach Boys' 'Wendy' is owned by the band, fitting in perfectly with the proceedings. Enjoy! remains an excellent example of  underground American rock & roll from the mid '80s. Amen. I'm giving it an A-.


For some, All is where everything went pear-shaped. Carrion and Cooper were out, and Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez were in. It was also the first album from the band to be released on the SST label at the time. After the disc's release (and a tour), Milo went back again to college, the band recruited Dag Nasty's Dave Smalley in as singer and they changed their name to All. All were too sugary-sweet for my likings: I saw them play here live in 1990 when they toured (with singer Scott Reynolds) and I thought they blew chunks, but that's a different story. By 1987, the band had transformed into something quite different. I recall this disc getting largely negative reviews at the time by the likes of Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside, and I'm pretty sure that Byron Coley slagged it in Forced Exposure (he'd previously been a big supporter), and whilst All's sound is a thousand miles removed from the simplistic 4/4 punker angst of Milo Goes To College, it's mega-complex, muso-damaged approach is nothing to sneeze at. Then again, I never sneezed at Black Flag's Family Man LP - a record many people openly laughed at - and that's what this album largely resembles, albeit w/ a SoCal pop edge and no spoken-word segments breaking up proceedings. Egerton does an ace Ginn impersonation - that's probably why FLAG hired him to play leads just the other year -  and since Stevenson played on Family Man, his contribution is no stretch. Fact is, if any record is going to claim the throne of the great '80s Californian pop-punk jazz-metal disc, then All is it, and if you want to debate the point, the comments box is willing and available. A track like 'Van' is an obvious case in point. But for straight-up hooks, you also get 'Cameage', 'Coolidge' and the perennial 'Clean Sheets'. For heavier material there's 'Iceman' and the epic 'Schizophrenia'. What sounded like a stinker on legs 27 years ago - 27 fucking years ago! - sounds fresh to me. It sounds great to me. All is absolutely one of the best things they ever did, and I mean that. That's an A from me.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the Descendents is that, to ever-so-loosely paraphrase Winston Churchill: never before has a band so great inspired so many bands so horrible. I will lay the blame quite fairly and squarely at their doorstop for inspiring much of the crud which passed for pop-punk from the late '80s and beyond, especially the particularly virulent strains of Fat Records and Epitaph guff (they recorded two albums for the latter when reuniting in the '90s/'00s - 1996's Everything Sucks is actually pretty damn good), and for this reason they can be a tough band to recommend to those who, err, weren't there, man, because a first-time listen in the 21st century could be a frightening and possibly off-putting experience, especially for these three platters. But for veteran arseholes like, perhaps, you and me, they're worth reinvestigating and reappreciating, or, for those who never gave a shit about anything they did after their '82 debut, the eclectic brew of I Don't Want To Grow Up/Enjoy!/All are well worth sticking yer snout into.

Monday, December 08, 2014

TUXEDOMOON



Better late than never, I guess. And late I often am. I've known of the band Tuxedomoon since I was but a wee lad - 14, in fact, when I was the recipient of the Hardcore California  tome for Xmas. That weighty slab of pictures and words was a godsend for myself and many others around the globe, and one of the very few widely available books giving the early Californian punk/hardcore/new wave/experimental scenes a serious look-at. Actually, it was possibly the only one, too, but it remains, as they say, 'a classic of the genre'.

Alongside pics and blurbs on punker heavyweights like the Circle Jerks, Germs, Fear, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag et al, there were reams and reams of text, praise and impressive black & white photography dedicated to the more art-damaged spectre of the punk diaspora which hit the west coast at the time, folks like the Residents, Chrome, Monitor, Factrix, Boyd Rice, the Los Angeles Free Music Society and the types of miscreants floating around the Ralph and Subterranean offices, or maybe even Joe Rees (RIP) and his estimable get-up at Target Video. This artwave scene - yes, let's call it that - has always held great fascination for moi. The stayers & players, movers & shakers seemed a different breed to the jackboot & bandana crowd, although their more, err, sophisticated sense of rage and loathing still placed them somewhere within the punk rock gene pool, only distanced by perhaps a few more years at some Cali art-school under their belt (and hard drugs consumed). Of course the other aspect of great fascination here remains the sense of crossover and musical cross-fertilisation between the seemingly bumpkin/suburban hardcore scene and its more urbane, artier cousins, with labels such as Subterranean and Alternative Tentacles up north and SST and New Alliance down south being the great documenters of both sides of the coin.

The Superior Viaduct label - you surely know of this operation - has and continues to be the great 21st-century documenter of this peculiar and highly interesting strand of American post-punk, and you should snap up pretty much everything they do, and pronto. Of course their reissue programme cuts a wide and impressive swathe, also bringing other left-field notables into the fold, from Alice Coltrane to Heldon to Glenn Branca to Peter Jefferies to Leslie Winer, but for me, the label's identity is built on keeping the flame of early Californian art-punk alive in a world which largely doesn't give a shit but should (that's OK: the world didn't give a shit back then either). In the SV catalogue, you'll find some choice noise from the Residents, 100 Flowers/Urinals, Black Humor, Noh Mercy, Factrix, Monitor, Negative Trend, Sleepers and more - and in due time I will run through a few of these titles in greater detail - but for now let's quickly summarise the worth of Tuxedomoon's first two 12" EPs.

They would be No Tears from 1978 and Scream With A View from a year later. Tuxedomoon were formed in the mid '70s by San Fran artheads Steve Brown and Blaine Reininger and, having seen umpteen photos of the ensemble they led decked out in theatrical settings with electric violins and stacks of keyboards and electronic gear, and given the fact that they made it semi-big in Europe and relocated to France for their troubles, I figured they were tre boring and gave them short shrift for the past 25+ years. Who'd wanna waste time with such lightweights when you've got the likes of Alien Soundtracks and Fingerprince to consume? Well, there's room for all. Superior Viaduct don't waste your goddamn time with foppery, and these two EPs are simply ace examples of synth-punk coldwave and other nonsense terms understood (or cared for) only by folks like you and me. Rather than sounding like some sort of austere and utterly uninvolving art-fartery - which is what I had Tuxedomoon pegged as - the sonics here are raw and dynamic and an absolutely crucial link in this period of post-punk west coast rock & roll. Yes, I just used the R & R term, and for these discs, they are indeed applicable.

No Tears' title track is the clincher here, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the desperate times, and the other four cuts present provide enough atmospherics and grime to make me wonder why, after nearly 25 years of rabid Chrome fandom, I never bothered taking the slightest leap in the Tuxedomoon direction. Scream With A View has a slightly fuller and cleaner sound, but only marginally so, and the primitive analogue warmth still seeps through. These are goddamn essential recordings. 20 minutes each: that makes for at least one great album's worth of material (and a subsequent stream of their debut LP from 1980, Half Mute, which buzzes at a nice Metal Box/Cab. Voltaire angle, has me convinced there's at least TWO albums worth of great material there). If nothing else - and it's not worth much of anything else - use this blog as a buyers' guide: these two recordings are well worth buying. Glorious art brut from a lifetime ago. The sound has been replicated and approximated time and again since (this local Melbourne band is currently doing it very well indeed), but the 1970s recordings of the outfit known as Tuxedomoon still sound fresh and exciting in this universe. File next to: Screamers, Chrome, Residents, Metal Urbain and other worthies.

Monday, December 01, 2014

NATIVE CATS



The Tasmanian duo known as the Native Cats have been a constant in my CD player the past 12 months, and that is an odd wonder. I have known of their existence since they formed seven-odd years ago. I have been friends with one half of the band - bassist Julian Teakle - for over 15 years and have followed his music proclivities in other outfits (such as The Frustrations) even longer. At the risk of embarrassing the gent, he is one of the leading lights and indefatiguable spruikers of the Hobart music scene, so much so that I fully expected him to greet me at the airport like a local ambassador when I spent a week down there last year with my family. I had to make do with a pleasant lunch in Julian's company instead.

The oddness springs from this fact: prior to approximately a year ago, I didn't really like the Native Cats. I had seen them play several times on their rare sojourns up north to the mainland (need I discuss the geography of Tasmania? If so, consult a map) over the previous 5 years, and despite my friendship with one half of the band, they made little sense to me. Fact is, I couldn't figure what Teakle and singer/keyboardist/melodica-player (melodicist?) Peter Escott were attempting to achieve with their music, even though various friends of mine considered them a bold, original and formidable outfit. At some point last year, much as I did with long-time Melbourne rock & roll institution (sorry, Joel), Hoss (more on them at a later date), I took it upon myself to assess and more importantly reassess their music and an epiphany took place. It was like I had seen the goddamn light and my blind eyes could see.

Since their inception in 2007, the group has released three full-length albums and a number of 7"s (one with renowned scuzzbags UV Race) and toured the US, playing Gonerfest in 2012. Those full-lengthers are: 2009's Always On (Consumer Productions [CD]/Ride The Snake [LP]), 2011's Process Praise (Rough Skies [CD])/Ride The Snake [LP]) and 2013's Dallas, an LP/CD released on the more well-known RIP Society imprint. I should also note that both Consumer Productions and Rough Skies are Teakle's own label, and Ride The Snake is a US label which licensed these releases for vinyl. I have had, since their respective releases, all of these titles in my possession, since Julian takes it upon himself to send me copies of everything he does. He will learn, perhaps for the very first time, that I am greatly appreciative of this and his generosity hasn't been in vain.

Musically, the Native Cats traverse some broad and difficult fields. They follow no obvious precedents, although the sounds they emit do have its approximate ballparks. When people ask me what it is they do, I say that they have to imagine an Antipodean, insular and end-of-the-earth musical collage which brings in elements of Suicide (second album), New Order (first album), Young Marble Giants (their only album) and The Fall (pick one of the better, but more accessible albums: say, Bend Sinister). Their music can be frustratingly minimalist: Escott's deadpan lyrical observations (always personal) skewed over a basic drum-machine pattern with Teakle clunking bass lines anchoring it all; sometimes there's a brief flourish of melodica or a clanging noise or synth whoop on top (Escott uses a pocket-sized device to create these extracurricular flourishes). But taken as a whole, and taken as a statement of two over three full-length LPs (and then some), the Native Cats are doing something very special.

For my two cents, the discs to really get are the 1st and 3rd albums, the first being the most accessible and melodic of the lot (listen to a cut here), whilst their most recent effort features lengthy, bass-heavy dirges which add some weight to the proceedings (listen up!). The Native Cats: they've hit a spot, and I never saw it coming. I ride my bike to work three days a week - headphones on - and it's a good way to clear the head and spin an eclectic mix of tunes. Napalm Death one day, The Feelies the next. The 'Cats have been on repeat for a long time, but the repetition hasn't bred contempt just yet. Their obtuse and esoteric take on 'rock' has helped soothe my troubled soul, and for that I'm thankful.


I can't complete a post on the Native Cats without mentioning frontman Peter Escott's brilliant debut album on the Bedroom Suck label, The Long O. It's one of my favourite releases of 2014. It's a truly personal album which eschews the beats of his duo recordings with Julian and instead concentrates on ballads, jaunts and even occasional ditties behind the keyboard. It's received wide (and very positive) coverage from some of the big guns in the UK (where it is released on the Fire label) - people like The Wire, Uncut, even NME - and if I was going to simplify it to the point of a sound byte (I will), I'd say that if any record this decade approximates an Australian take on a Daniel Johnston/Kevin Ayers hybrid to beautiful effect, then it's Peter Escott's The Long O. You can and should watch a clip here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

IN PRAIZE OF CUNTZ. THE BAND.


Excuse the cussing...I'll keep this brief. Melbourne's Cuntz have developed into a formidable outfit. I caught them play live in a city basement venue just two nights ago and reached that conclusion. Of course, I reached that conclusion 12 months ago, when I first heard their second LP, Solid Mates, on the estimable Homeless label (of course, I have to say that, but I do also believe it), but it was confirmed and solidified just this week past. A four-piece unit dealing in a particular strain of post-punk/HC grunt-rock, it's easy for such a band not to be good. Most practitioners of the neo-pigfuck genre - oh my lord, I just said that - do not make music I wish to hear. It's pure schtick - faux-redneck nonsense, at best - the sonics often resulting in B-grade sub-Antiseen slop-rock. We've all been witnesses. Cuntz play the game differently: they have songs and make music I place on repeat - in the privacy of my own home. That is a highly coveted position (not really), where wheat is sorted from chaff.

Sure, Cuntz sound a lot like a Venom P. Stinger/Flipper hybrid, but if you're of the opinion that such a point in the musical universe is a miserable place to inhabit, then you've probably just stumbled upon the wrong music-based blog to read. They have dynamics, ace guitar riffs, a rhythm section which makes sense and a singer - let's call him 'Ben' - who doesn't just ape some sort of cheeseball 'I'm on the fuckin' edge, duuuude' routine when the spotlight's fixed on him. In other words, the tunes deliver. Their first LP, Aloha, released (also) on the Homeless label earlier in 2013, didn't make a whole lotta sense to me. Its musical crudity had me thinking the band should've ironed out the songs a little longer before committing them to tape, but hey, I really should give it a good listen all over again.

Solid Mates comes in a swish gatefold sleeve and may or may not still be available. I've seen copies still floating around Melbourne, so it at least remains in circulation of some sort. The production, for a local scuzzbag outfit, is surprisingly punchy (thank Alex MacFarlane and the ever-present mastering skills of Mikey Young) and if you give the track above a spin you'll recognise that it's not all just pig-grunt Aussie-rock swagger, but a driving momentum and buzz which mutates Mark E. Smith, Suicide and some sort of garage-dunce beat. They're good, of that I am convinced. Yanks love 'em (they've toured there); many folks in their homeland choose to ignore them, but that's perhaps to be expected. Get on it. New live LP out, which I believe has pretty much been and gone upon release. I await more studio goods.

Monday, November 17, 2014

APPRAISING THE BLEEDING OBVIOUS, PART 2



Let's make it brief and get this embarrassment out of the way. This 2CD set, now on the extremely estimable Superior Viaduct label (who here hasn't burst a blood vessel over their release schedule these past 24 months?), has been around in one form or another for nearly quarter of a century. I recall seeing ads for it in, err, Option magazine some time around the very dawn of the 1990s. I didn't pay any attention. Devo?! Why the hell would I care about those New Wavers? I actually owned the first two Devo albums on the compact disc format back in the 1990s: the editions released on Hank Rollins' Infinite Zero label. He had a good thing going there, and I figured that his stamp of approval meant something, even though at that time he was releasing the worst music of his career. Anyway, I played them a handful of times, got absolutely nothing out of the experience and traded them in about 6 months later. Thrilling, huh? This is why I do a blog: to regal you with such stories.

Skip to late last year. I look after Superior Viaduct's distribution Down Under - a job which is not as exciting as it sounds - but it has its benefits. Out of curiosity, since every fucking human being I hold dear to me has forever told me that early Devo is the duck's nuts, I asked the label for a freebie of the Hardcore Devo 2CD (it can also be attained as two separate vinyl volumes, one a single LP, one a double) in the next order and, upon receiving it have been eating all prior words I said about the band for the last 30-odd years of my life. Chowing down like a humiliated man possessed. Humble pie every fucking day, weeping quietly to myself, sobbing about what a fool I've been. I even re-bought the first two albums (and I like 'em, a lot).

But really what you need - what you probably already have - is Hardcore Devo, which contains all of the band's pre-major label recordings from 1974 - 1977 (basically the infamous demos which David Bowie and Iggy Pop pulled their collective dicks over), when they were but a group of basement-bound spuds from Akron, Ohio, writing and recording a slab of original (and boy, it is original) material on 4-track, hoping the world would one day share their vision. To say that the sounds of these recordings have blown my fucking mind the past year would be an understatement. I have had my head in the sand and up my arse: this is the most visionary 1970s rock & roll - completely out of lockstep with the rest of society - the US of A spat out during this era this side of Pere Ubu, Half Japanese, the Screamers and the Residents. They do not sit to the side of any of those bands: they sit among them. Some folks say they sit above them, but I'm not here to split hairs.

At this stage of the game, Devo were propogating a gonzoid form of post-hippie noise which blended elements of jagged Beefheart rhythms, an absurdist, Sparksian theatricality, the smarmy art-rock of Roxy Music and the wise-ass humour of Zappa before he got too annoying. And so much more. There's THREE ALBUMS worth of material here - two hours - and it's all good. Most bands have a tough time writing three great songs in their lifetime: Devo wrote and recorded three albums worth of all-killer/no-filler tuneage for their own amusement in the cultural wasteland of midwestern USA in the mid '70s, and 40 years later it still sounds better than nearly everything released since. I have listened to these recordings nearly every single day for 12 months - I should know what I'm talking about, even if I'm the last guy to be talking about it.

I'm told that the SV edition is the best-sounding version there's ever been of this set, much clearer and punchier than the old Rykodisc edition. I can't make comparisons, but I can say that, for a group of semi-impoverished outcasts recording in their basement on very basic equipment, Hardcore Devo sounds amazingly good. Every riff, quirk and minutae is captured on tape - it's 'lo-fi', sure, but given a Jim Steinman gloss, it wouldn't sound any better.

What the fuck. Stop reading this and start listening. No sound links here; you do the homework. I apologise for being over two decades late to the party.

Friday, November 07, 2014

APPRAISING THE BLEEDING OBVIOUS, PART 1

You really are going to have to forgive me for my belated appraisal here of the bleeding obvious, but throughout the next few posts I will discuss some recordings I have flogged within an inch of their lives the past 12 months - recordings of a perhaps, shall we say, obvious nature (for those so inclined). They have, in a sense, become an audio obsession, soothing my soul in troubled times. Firstly, let's tackle the Butthole Surfers' major label debut from 1993, Independent Worm Saloon...

I purchased this CD for a ha'penny approximately a year ago, an exchange of cash and goods brought on by a conversation I had with an old friend about how the Buttholes kinda ate shit after their classic albums on the Touch & Go label. Nay, he exclaimed: whilst 1990's Pioughd might have landed on earth as an uninspired clunker, the band then hit a new high w/ their John Paul Jones-produced major label debut (the album I speak of) and then chugged along with the commercially-successfully (though awful - in a kind of Beck/Fun Lovin' Criminals/Bloodhound Gang vein) Electric Larryland in 1995. The rest is history, and I won't speak of it. The point is thus: 1993's Independent Worm Saloon (IWS) came and went and I paid little attention. I couldn't fathom that the band could make an album I'd actually consider 'good' at that point in time and I dutifully ignored it.

I recall a review featured in Eric (Oblivian) Friedl's Wipe Out! fanzine at the time, and the gist was thus: not a total waste of time, but close to it, and so far as 'psychedelic punk' (or whatever) goes, the Buttholes had been usurped by the Boredoms in recent years, and at this stage they were treading water. But this is all merely context and back-peddling, for the early '90s were a different era, and I was a different man. The fact is, was and remains as so: Independent Worm Saloon, whilst far more straight-up 'rock' than anything the band had done before, was also the best thing the group had done since 1987's Locust Abortion Technician, and for my two cents remains the last great recording from the band known as the Butthole Surfers.

Sure, Gibby had been hanging around with Ministry's Al Jourgensen a lot at the time, recording music together and engaging in other, even more unsavoury pursuits, and that, uh, Ministry's 'sound' did rub off onto the Buttholes a touch, but the tough metallic delivery of the tunes here, augmented by the band's natural sense of fried psychedelia makes for an absolutely killer mix. When I recently described this record to a friend as a 'fantastic psych-metal' record, I think he got it all wrong (he turned his nose up as if I was describing a Limp Bizkit or Dream Theatre platter to him).

IWS has a swag of ace tunes, possibly the only drawback being that it's simply too long: being the Golden Age Of the Compact Disc, where it seemed necessary for every band to make their albums 50 - 60 minutes long, it clips at just over an hour. Still, with songs like the opener, 'Who was In My Room Last Night?' (oh lordy, there's Flea in that clip!) powering in, the proceedings kick off to a good start indeed. 'Tongue' sounds like it could've been lifted from Hairway To Steven, but has a much tougher sound and even breaks out ever-so-briefly into speed-metal riffery. 'Goofy's Concern' is one of the best tracks, showcasing Paul Leary's knack at the riff (let me also give honourable mention to 'Dust Devil'), and my fave remains 'Strawberry', a rocker which, despite its obvious 'big' sound, still vibrates like the band which made Rembrandt Pussyhorse. If anything, IWS is slightly one-dimensional - it features no goofy detours of the past, such as 'Kuntz', 'John E. Smoke' or 'Moving To Florida' (good tracks which open a bit of space) - but the dimension it inhabits isn't a bad place to be for an hour.

Hey, I could link every damn song to a Youtube clip, but you do the legwork. Or maybe you already own it and know everything I'm currently telling you. A bunch of '80s underground vets made the major-label move in the early '90s and some made serious artistic missteps in the process (some just made career missteps). That's for the history books. I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but Independent Worm Saloon certainly ain't one of them. For a relentless slice of psychedelic Texan heavy metal bankrolled by the corporate demons at Capitol-EMI, you couldn't ask for more. It's a party-rock album par excellence.

Monday, November 03, 2014

I'm a little rusty at this, so please be gentle with me. Yes, late last year - 11 months ago, in fact - I walked away from this blog, wiped my hands of it and told myself I'd never go back. Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was close. My personal/work life underwent several upheavals and dramas, and essentially I felt that I didn't need nor did I want the burden of being expected to deliver 'the goods' with a blog which apparently actually boasted something known as a 'following' (I'm not tooting my own horn here, and there's no time for false humility: people from all over the globe, whether by accident or design, do actually read this blog). And so walk away I did, justifying my absence from it by pretending that it was all behind me, that it meant nothing to me. I haven't even checked my lexdev Yahoo account in over 6 months to see if there's been any correspondence, and given how much spam that account received on a weekly basis, I'm a little afraid to open it. Does anyone care about a revived Lexicon Devil? Possibly not, but it's something I need to do. I need a creative outlet which stretches my mind further than witless Facebook updates and barking at people on street corners.

Anyway, enough of the therapeutic hand-wringing, because no one reads this blog to hear about my personal dramas. I will ease myself into this with an easy entry: an assessment of Fleetwood Mac's Then Play On LP from 1969. If you think I've gone off the charts with my musical tastes, then I'm happy to upset you. In near-future posts, I will discuss the music of the Butthole Surfers, Devo, Hoss, Native Cats, Ry Cooder, Van der Graaf Generator, Ty Segall, Purling Hiss, Keith Jarrett, Sparks, Descendents, Martin Rev, The Who, HTRK, 10cc, Cheap Time and other artists who have kept insanity at bay the past 12 months. There have been two developments in my music-listening habits the past year: firstly, I have been listening to a lot more contemporary music than I had been for the prior decade, a lot of it being Australian (we antipodeans have entered a new Golden Age Of Sound with the likes of Total Control, Nun, Dick Diver, Ausmuteants, Native Cats, Living Eyes, etc., etc. and soaking up their wares has helped refrain me from becoming a hopelessly backwards-looking relic); and secondly, I have taken it upon myself to subscribe to Spotify, the music streaming service apparently designed by Satan Himself, but one whose politics I won't go into in this forum (as a sidenote: it is mighty odd that some compadres of mine have ascended their collective high horse in reaction to my subscribing to such a corporation, given their years upon years of illegal downloading which currently clog up their hard drives. Hey, my streaming is paying the artist a pittance, but at least it's something). Anyway. Spotify has allowed me to listen to a lot of music I otherwise wouldn't have easy access to, and given the fact that my collection of vinyl/CDs/cassettes/fanzines/books/etc. has reached a stage of utter madness and is something I really don't need to add to at all (I'm on a strict no-buying policy for the foreseeable future), streaming new music has been my listening mode of choice for unheard sounds. If you have a problem with that, contact my social secretary.


If you've been orbiting the music-dork stratosphere the past few decades then you've undoubtedly heard the line about Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac being the bomb in regards to Brit blues-rock of the 1960s. The band at this stage were of course an entirely different beast to the zillion-selling soft-rock cocaine cowboys (and girls) of the mid/late '70s and beyond, and in regards to 'Brit blues-rock', do not be afraid. The 'Mac kept it hard and tight, keeping their ouvre (at least when Green was with them) far astray from the bantamweight noodling of Clapton and his cohorts. I had forever kept my distance from this era of the band simply because I didn't imagine them to be that good, and that's because Brit blues-rock of the late '60s I have always found to be a fairly tedious prospect, with obvious exceptions. Peter Green was/is obviously a troubled soul and his story is well known. A Syd Barrettesque character in some ways, he's seen by many as the guiding light in a pioneering band who had to exit the stage to battle his own demons as the group he once lead gained phenomenal levels of fame and money in his absence. He also released an incredible solo album in 1970, just upon his departure from FM, entitled End Of The Game, a freeform/experimental instrumental disc which is well worth your trouble.

By 1969, the band had already released two LPs and secured US/UK hits with 'Black Magic Woman' and 'Albatross', but it was '69's Then Play On which really brought out a playful looseness within the group and a sound they'd never again replicate. Sonically, you could place this era of FM as some sort of meeting point of early Led Zep and early Groundhogs, but with more expansive and ambitious songwriting in tow, one which could encompass quiet ballads, bucolic instrumentals, elongated instrumental passages and some really hard and aggressive blues-influenced rock & roll. The debut of guitarist Danny Kirwan in the group - he wrote some of the LP's best songs - really paid off. There's several different versions of the album, there being slightly different original UK/US editions, a revised US edition and an expanded CD edition which takes on everything from from every issue available. Isn't this exciting? The version in my possession is a recent US CD edition, which replicates the revised US version from 1970, splicing some of the longer songs together (such as the brilliant, epic two-part 'Oh Well'), and inserting other tracks in different order, such as the beautifully plaintive instrumental, 'My Dream'. None of this information is particularly interesting unless you subscribe to MOJO magazine, but what is of great interest is just how excellent Then Play On truly is.

Audibly spruiking this album to all and sundry the past few months, I'm surprised by the broad fanbase it enjoys: 50-something No Wavers who bought it in the pre-punk mist, avant-krautrock types (there's certainly enough musical experimentalism present to cross over into that realm), indie snobs and, of course, the bog-standard rock slob. How did Then Play On fall into my lap? Whilst talking to Mr. Warwick Brown at Greville Records earlier in the year, he was so goddamn insistent of its genius that he simply gave me a copy of the CD. Gratis. He would not let me leave his store without a copy in my hand. His selling point was Green's soulful voice, the strength of the songwriting and the Zep-style riffery on display - his words. I say yes to all three. Within the first minute of the opener, 'Coming Your Way', which I played upon returning home from my jaunt, I was hooked. That instantaneous reaction happens just about never. Then Play On is absolutely essential listening - it should be held in just as high regard as the likes of Forever Changes and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It sounds absolutely nothing like either of those albums, of course, but for sprawling eclecticism and a kindred adventurousness, they're surely distant cousins of some sort. Just because the band mutated into something else and sold a whole lotta units later on (and I should mount a defense re: Rumours/Tusk at a later date), such flagrant populism doesn't detract one iota from the greatness of their music. That much should be obvious.