Sunday, February 19, 2017


Here's what I done over my summer break: I slogged my way through David Nichols' new epic tome, Dig: Australian Rock And Pop Music 1960 - 85 (Verse Chorus Press). 'Slog' may have you thinking I didn't enjoy the experience, and to that I say, au contraire! T'was a book I enjoyed immensely; but it's also a book which requires some dedication, being nearly 600 pages of small print which will chew up a number of hours and days (and weeks, in my case) as you consume all the information within.

Some background: David Nichols is a fairly well known musician/writer/raconteur both Down Under and abroad. He was a staff writer for Smash Hits(!) magazine down here for over a decade (my first exposure to his writing was via a live PiL review in 1984), also published the excellent Distant Violins fanzine throughout much of this period, played in the Cannanes and other outfits, published a major book on the Go-Betweens a number of years ago, now teaches at Melbourne University, etc., etc. And yes, he is someone I also happen to know, and we often find ourselves at the same social gatherings and BBQs in the area, due to mutual friends. Now that all that is out of the way, let's begin with Dig, a book which apparently took him a decade to complete, and given the sheer amount of information it contains, such a fact is surely understandable. I find Nichols a fascinating writer (and human being, if truth be told) because he has no sense of snobbery or real delineation between the hip and underground and the popular and tacky. He will find the good in Wa Wa Nee and Pseudo Echo just as he will in the Fungus Brains and Laughing Clowns. Which isn't to say that he possesses no critical faculties in discerning good music from bad, it's just that he doesn't possess the same innate sense of indie-retentive snobbery which, well, I have. And it's this broad appreciation which can lead up him some interesting (and perhaps dangerous) musical paths.

The book itself, as the title suggests, is a history of Australian popular music over a 25-year period, and Nichols is at pains to point out in the introduction that his assessment of things - both in his critical assessment of the music and what he chooses to cover and ignore - is purely subjective, as indeed all histories are. The coverage is still broad and sweeping, and pulls no punches in some regards. A sacred cow such as Johnny O'Keefe is shot down in flames rather quickly, dismissed as a hack and horrible human being to boot (he was both); INXS are frequently derided for their dull music and shameless aspirations (can't disagree there!); though I do have a major beef with David's rude dismissal of AC/DC's Back In Black (he loathes it; I certainly don't). Some of the major players in Australian pop and rock, such as the Bee Gees, Molly Meldrum, Lobby Loyde, Ross Wilson and even Johnny Young get a lot of pages covering their contributions, and love 'em or hate 'em, they have all played a major part in shaping Australian music, and Nichols isn't afraid to see the good and bad in what they have all contributed. In short, it's refreshing to read a book on such a subject which doesn't appear to have an agenda in regards to either fawning over the gods or dismissing them for controversy's sake.

There is simply way too much music covered within to go into detail here - that's what the book's for. You get pre-Beatles '60s pop through to the Easybeats, Zoot, Masters Apprentices (whom I would've liked to have seen more on, especially their peak early '70s phase - but that's me being subjective), Pip Proud, Aztecs and the whole Sunbury scene, the rise and raise (then fall) of two of the biggest bands of the '70s, Daddy Cool and Skyhooks (and both of their stories are fascinating, even though I don't rate their music), Saints/Radio Birdman, Rose Tattoo and X, Go-Betweens and Triffids (two highly-praised bands - by everyone! - whom I just can't get a grip on), the Carlton scene of the mid/late '70s, The Models (another band whose highly-worshipped early recordings totally leave me cold - perhaps you had to be there) and more, more, more.

My favourite parts in the book - perhaps because their histories/stories were largely unknown to me and have since garnered in me quite a belated and curious fandom - would be the extensive coverage of the Carlton scene of the late '70s, particularly that of The Sports, as well as En Zed ex-pats, Dragon. Yes, you heard me right. The Sports' first two albums, 1978's Reckless and 1979's Don't Throw Stones, are magnificent collections of New Wave/pub rock/power pop anthems, skewered by sharp writing, a great frontman (yup, that's Stephen Cummings) and a raw, powerful delivery. I had always dismissed such outfits as unbelievably naff - a half-arsed compromise between what punk should have been and shameless pop ambition - but when put into context (the context that such players had been around the scene creating all kinds of radical and interesting music for a number of years before punk hit), their high-energy, urban brand of hook-filled non-hippie pop/rock makes sense. My pal David Laing (yeah, that guy) has reissued very nice 2CD editions of those two albums with a ton of great bonus material, and I urge all and sundry to give them an earload.

Dragon is a band which David Nichols has long had a fondness for, and hence he gives them a lot of coverage in Dig, just about more than any other band. Dave Graney writes an interesting introduction to Dig, and he makes a great point, one he borrows from an unnamed friend of his (that person happens to be J**** W***s, an old workmate and good friend of mine), which is this: every great music book must have the author championing at least one artist/band which has you scratching your head, furrowing your brow and saying to yourself, REALLY??!! Them?! I think that is a good litmus test for a great music book. Of course, David Nichols champions a whole number of bands here to varying degrees for whom I either can't stand or have no interest in (Cold Chisel, Reels, Australian Crawl, Sherbet), but his cheering for the recorded works of Dragon had me curious, particularly because I'd become aware of their mid '70s NZ days when they were a prog band who recorded two very rare (and highly desirable) albums for the famed Vertigo label: 1974's Universal Radio and '75's Scented Gardens For The Blind. Both are on Spotify, and the former has been reissued nicely (with David Nichols liner notes, natch) by the Aztec label, and hopefully the second will get a similar treatment one day (I should hassle Gil). I have, over the course of the last few months, upon reading this book I immersed myself in these two LPs repeatedly, become a huge fan of these two albums, although I should warn you that if you're allergic to 'prog' and all its extended-song/Hammond-organ glory, then these recordings are not for you. But for myself, there is something very special about these albums, being nascent yet highly sophisticated - with great songs! - recordings from a young band stationed at the arse end of the world in the mid '70s. Of course, the band soon moved to Australia and became a very successful pop/rock act with a number of huge hits (overseas types will surely know 'April Sun In Cuba', a big AOR hit around the world), although the band's history is more perverse and twisted than the average punk band. Firstly, the group had a long-running fascination with the music of Lou Reed and the Velvets, and covered 'White Light/White Heat' in their live set for decades; singer Marc Hunter was a punk enthusiast and can be seen in the book wearing a Residents t-shirt in 1978 whilst wrestling a woman on stage; the band actually kicked Marc out of the band between the years 1979 - '82 for being an insufferable shitbag and drug fiend, though members, including Dragon leader Todd Hunter (yes, his brother), contributed to Marc's solo recordings during this period; the band were voracious drug users (and, in some cases, dealers) and were named in a government enquiry into drug abuse in NSW; and hey, they did write a number of great pop songs - that is something I will not deny.

So, in fear of turning this review into a book of its own, it should be stated that Dig is never a boring read. Nichols covers music I love, loathe and am frequently indifferent to, but never is it a dull to read about such topics. As he is in person, his writing is as dry as the desert sun, with deadpan witticisms scattered throughout. The cultural background and context to what is covered gives the reader a great insight into why the music turned out as it did (there is much to be said for the fact that, at least in the '60s and '70s, the vast bulk of notable music eminating from Australia was in fact made by migrants) and what life was like at the time for a music fan: the press, the radio, the concerts et al. I have a number of bones to pick with David regarding Dig next time I see him, and that is a sign of a good book for me. If you're reading this blog - and I do believe you're reading it right now - then this is a book which will interest you.


Hey folks. Sorry I've been slack around here. Real Life and others things have taken precedence. I've also set up a new laff-out-loud blog, DONALD TRUMP RECORD REVIEWS, which is also a Tumblr site. Today, the non-laughs are on me! More things to come...

Sunday, January 01, 2017


Many, many moons ago - as many moons as there have been in the past 12 years - I posted about a 7" by the Swedish band, DOM DAR. This single still haunts me, it still eludes me. I guess I could buy a copy on Discogs, but maybe I'm just waiting for a copy to fall from the sky and into my lap. 25 years after first hearing them, as I lumber into middle-age, they still take my fancy. My reborn obsession comes from belatedly hearing their other recorded works, most of which looks to be collected here on the CD entitled Machine Way. I know next to nothing of the band, and am finding it difficult to scoop any information on them. Their recorded history is curious, since they released music in 1984/'85 and 1990/'91, yet not in the years between. A Swedish friend saw them play in their homeland during their latter period. They were an awesome blend of Discharge-style d-beat hardcore and sludgy, Melvins-ish trudge. In their faster moments, they mostly remind me of Holland's BGK - a classic Euro take on the Discharge-style thrash of the early '80s (and their Nothing Can Go Wrogn! LP from '86 remains one of the finest European hardcore discs of the 1980s) - and the organic, loose miasma of Melvins ca. Bullhead. That's a fine place to stand. I am goddamned shocked at how good the music on this CD is: tight, surprisingly well-recorded 'crust-punk' which is melodic, eclectic (even a goddamn violin thrown - and not just because they could) and 'heavy' without being metal. The CD in question was released on a Japanese label in 1994, and you can bet I searched high and low for it when I was in that very country just a few weeks back. To no avail. Yes, I could just buy one via Discogs... but again: I'm hoping one will just fall from the sky. In the meanwhile, I have the whole thing on the thoroughly unsatisfactory format known as YouTube. You could start your 2017 in worse ways than this.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Yes, it's a yearly round-up of the *cough* RELEASES OF THE YEAR. As always, this is predicated with the knowledge that it's essentially based on what I've heard throughout the year and is not definitive by any means. For instance, it was only after last year was finished that I became aware of Julia Holter's utterly magnificent Have You In My Wilderness LP, a release which absolutely should have been on top of my pile for '15, but alas, it came to my lazy ears far too late. I am also aware of the fact that I am in somewhat of a priviliged position, in that my job dictates that I should try to keep up with what interesting sounds are being released.

Whilst all and sundry are hailing 2016 as The Worst Year On Record, I won't lie and will confess that mine was certainly above average. Both work-wise and with the family, it was my first year in approximately half a decade which wasn't frought with huge dramas (bar one) and sleepless nights; I managed to make it to Japan twice (yes, just got back from another trip a few weeks back), after having not been overseas for over a decade. Still, I'm not gloating about this, as I have friends who suffered grevious losses (and we're not talking about celebrities they didn't actually know) and had a much less fun time than I did in 2016.

In regards to bad news and the election of Trump... I don't usually go near politics in this blog, but let me share one or two thoughts. Trump is a dangerous, ignorant, impulsive nimrod (and I hated the guy years before it was fashionable!) who will probably be impeached within his first term due to some scandal or other (he's simply too wreckless not to involve himself in such things), but the Democrats fucked up majorly by having the truly horrible Hillary Clinton as their candidate (no, I am not a fan), and if there's any silver lining to the result it's that hopefully the Democrats will cleanse out the Clinton factor from their party, go back to the drawing board and start formulating policies which will actually benefit ordinary working people and not just their wealthy donors. My candidate of choice was knocked out early on in the game, if that gives you a clue. In relationship to this topic, I recommend you read Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which was published earlier this year and is a remarkably prescient tome on where 'liberal' politics in America (and elsewhere, ultimately) have gone horribly wrong in the past 30 years. Frank used to publish/edit The Baffler, which I believe is still running in some form, a cultural periodical which I used to read back in the '90s and was one of the best publications of its day. Word yourself up on it.

OK, onto the musical frivolities....

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar
I wrote about this previously below, so you can peruse there for the rundown. It remains my favourite release of 2016. It is very possibly the best thing the man ever did.

IGGY POP - Post-Pop Depression
Much like Bowie's effort, this is the best thing Iggy has done since the 1970s. Other than The Idiot and perhaps a few songs here and there, I have never been a fan of Iggy's solo work. It's been mostly de-fanged New Wave or clunky rock/metal since his Stooges days, and very little of it has been listenable. This album, which sees him backed up by lunkheads from such questionable outfits as the Arctic Monkeys and Eagles Of Death Metal, as with Bowie's Blackstar, completely knocked me sideways with just how good it is. The band is in perfect sync with the downbeat-sleaze vibe of the material, Iggy doesn't waste his time and yours simply being 'Iggy Pop' (he's been resting on those laurels for far too long), and the songs are simply excellent. I flogged the heck out of this disc throughout 2016, as you well should, too. It is shockingly good.

Local band featuring the omnipresent (and seemingly omnipotent) Al Montfort and other notables on board. The name 'Terry' is ridiculous, but they aren't. I saw them a couple of years back when they were going for a more folky sound, but they've seemingly changed course and become a more fully-realised unit who attack in a kind of jagged (yet still folksy) post-punk vein. There's shades of Raincoats, The Fall and Swell Maps in here, though the approach to the material is strictly 'Strine, so such comparisons do no real justice. Regardless, their laconic brand of no-frills 'rock' is music to these ears.

BREMEN - Eclipsed
I wrote of this a couple of months ago. Swedish two-piece with Brainbombs connection. Cosmic space-rock drone w/ elements of F/i, Necks, Cluster and other good things. Terrific band, killer release.

Local quintet who've been around for a number of years and have connections/overlapping members with about half-a-dozen other bands moving and shaking in the scene. The release of this disc took me by surprise. For one, I saw them play about 5 years ago - or it seems that long ago - and a debut longplayer seemed like a seriously belated act of, err, activity. But the wait was worth it. I had to write a sales blurb on this recently, and I said something to the effect of it filling the hole twixt Eddy Current and Royal Headache. They possibly find that an insult of obviousness, or a sales pitch which does their individualistic approach to soulful garage-punk/urban blues no justice whatsoever, but it is no insult and, to these ears, remains an accurate musical description.

INVERLOCH - Distance Collapsed
Another release I wrote about in detail earlier this year. Organic, crunching and ever-shifting death metal/doom from this Melbourne band who very belatedly sprang from the cold ashes of '90s death/grind/doom 'legends (indeed, they are), dISEMBOWELMENT. Excellent.

ORB - Birth
Geelong three-piece with Frowning Clouds and other connections. I've seen this crew a number of times over the past few years and they never fail to impress. There's a few things I like about them. Here goes... Firstly, there is the music itself. Their level of Sabbath worship is boundless, sure. There are riffs here which sound wholesale lifted from early BS efforts, sure. But there is more than that to what they do. There's a cosmic, Syd-like angle to the material which most other stoner outfits completely miss, and their approach in a live setting is what really wins me over. They look like three skinny short-haired dweebs who should be playing Feelies covers. They don't swagger. They emit a sexless nothing and that works in perfect tandem to the heavy-duty sounds they blast, because there is no flash. The drummer never raises his arms above shoulder height. There is a sense of musical restraint and, dare I say, constipation, which saps their music of macho aggression but still lets it cut loose and 'rock'. Orb are something special. I hear they've recorded a new LP which is in a more Kinks vein - whatever that means. I eagerly await.

THE DOUBLE - Dawn Of The Double
The Double's Jim White is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a legend in Australian and now international music circles. Venom P. Stinger and Dirty Three are where he made his name, but he hit the skins for a number of other, lesser-known Aussie post-punk outfits (Feral Dinosaurs, for one) and of course also travels the world banging drums for everyone from Will Oldham to Bill Callahan to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. And much more. When in town, he likes to drop into the shop from whence I operate my place of business, buy some discs (always a man of impeccable taste) and chew the fat. He came in earlier in the year and told me about this new LP he'd recorded with Emmett Kelly from Ty Segall's band. With a sly grin on his face, he told me he'd invented a new beat. Yes, a new drum pattern. And this album was recorded totally within this new time signature. In fact, it was a tribute to it. I was intrigued. 'It's called The Double, and is going to come out mid-year on In The Red'. I was, of course, even more intrigued. Much has been written about this record, and I will add little to the discussion. The standard line used - even by me! - is imagine the missing link twixt Glenn Branca and Bo Diddley. Or, perhaps, let's say it's like 'Sister Ray' w/ a shuffle beat. It's something special.

Speaking of... this is the latest/greatest from the Jim White/Georges Xylouris duo, which once again melds Jim's off-kilter jazz beats w/ Xylouris' lute riffing, creating a kind of Cretan intercontinental free-rock without precedent. And if there is a precedent to this, I would certainly like to hear it. The interplay between the two is magical, White's always-unpredictable beats somehow bringing the two together just when it sounds like it's coming apart. Even better than their Goat album from last year, I would like to see these recordings become an annual event for many years to come.

I've known Oren for over 20 years. He is a nice fellow with a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humour. Everyone down here knows Oren, although he is rarely in the country these days. His music career seems to have hit a vertical trajectory the past few years, his international jetsetting and recording going into hyperdrive, and Hubris is one of the results of this lifestyle. It's also, in this writer's non-humble opinion, possibly the best thing he's ever done. Of course such a statement is born from ignorance, since I have not heard all of the voluminous recordings he appears to release on a monthly basis. But I've heard enough to at least claim that this is near the top. It sees Oren and a few of his famous friends (there's Arto Lindsay and Jim O'Rourke in there) engaging in a kind of minimal techno on the opening cut (all called 'Hubris', by the way). It sounds like it could have been lifted from an old Kompakt disc or Basic Channel cut. That's good. Next track is a slightly briefer guitar interlude which evades the obvious trappings of sounding like a John Fahey tune. Then there's another long one, a lengthy track which melds percussive, rhythmic clutter with electronics and guitar noise. It is elongated Krauty goodness, crisp, danceable and highly listenable. Hubris, as a whole, is highly listenable. It should be a hit. Relatively speaking, I think it has been a hit.

CAUSA SUI - Return To Sky
Return To Sky is by no means Danish psych/stoner trio Causa Sui's finest moment. In fact, it's possibly their weakest moment; but of course, it must be added that their weaker moments are still better than most people's worst, and it is by no means a bad album, which is why it is here on the list. A while ago, late last year, I believe, I gave a bit of a rundown on the goings-on at the El Paraiso label, the imprint owned and operated by Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott from Causa Sui. If you haven't periused this, then I encourage yo to do so, toot sweet. That will save me from having to wax lyrical here. Causa Sui play largely improvised psych-damaged 'stoner rock' which is free of the cliches and limitations which many practitioners in the genre operate. That is, their sonics add up to so much more than a lukewarm stirfry of recycled Black Sabbath riffs. Their high watermarks remain their Summer Sessions and Pewt'r Sessions series, and Return To Sky is a step down in quality, but for free-form boogie with an additional slice of Soft Machine/Mahavishnu fusion-boogie thrown on top, no one can top these gents.

LUKE HOWARD - Two Places
Latest/greatest from this Melbourne-based (yet globe-trotting) composer and pianist who, of course, is also a friend but also a hell of a talent. His discography has traversed the fields of trio chamber-jazz of the ECM variety to Eno/Budd ambience (his fantastic Sun, Cloud LP from a couple of years ago) to more avant offerings of a jazz stripe to this one, his magnus opus available as a handsomely-packaged CD or 2LP set. Luke is a big fan of the Erased Tapes label, as am I, and perhaps this set is him making his pitch for a signing, and I can't fault him for trying. Herein lies a blend of ambience, restrained chamber piano jazz, modern composition, even a pinch of post-rock, if you don't mind the language. Of course, it would fit the Constellation or Erased Tapes stables like a pink rubber glove, and that's certainly no reason to dislike it. Of all the releases listed here, I think this one is the most underrated and underheard in 2016.

JASON SHARP - A Boat Upon Its Blood
AUTOMATISMA - Momentform Accumulations
Speaking of Constellation... here are three titles on the label which were released just recently and have rarely left my music-player of choice since I first heard them. I was bemoaning to a friend just recently how hard it is to convince, let alone sell, anything on the Constellation label other than the obvious heavy hitters (Godspeed, Silver Mt. Zion, et al... or maybe that pretty much covers it), because everyone has it in their minds that the label is full of esoteric and/or unlistenable French-Canadian art-rock bullpiss. Which, of course, it is. But in amongst said bullpiss lies an occasional valley of gold. Let's make these ones brief. Jason Sharp is another player in the Montreal scene centred around the label, has guested on releases by the likes of A Silver Mt. Zion and Sam Shalabi, and oftens plays the saxophone in a drone-like manner (a bit like his label mate, Colin Stetson). A Boat Upon Its Blood sounds a little like all of the above, which means it's a darkly dramatic, semi-orchestral slice of all-encompassing sound-art. Off World is Constellation veteran Sandro Perri's latest ensemble who play an organic brand of electronica which alternately reminds me of the sonic experiments of Hassell and Eno in a Fourth World capacity and the other-worldly drones of Coil during their minimal phase when they perfected their craft (think Ape Of Naples/Musick To Play In The Dark), which means I'm heaping high praise upon it. Mostly, it reminds me of nothing else. Automatisma is the nom de plume of Quebec-based producer, William Joudain, and his offering for the label is an atypical one: mostly organic and acoustic in its origins, it plays out in a certain vein of minimal techno. With real-time percussion and electronics, they mesh together beautifully to create something which sounds like it came out of the Berlin scene of the mid '90s. Which of course is a half-arsed way of putting it, but its dub-heavy mix of beats and electro-acoustic experiments works a treat.


BITCHIN BAJAS AND BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY - Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties
The outfit known as Bitchin Bajas have themselves a rather flawless discography thus far. The 'band' is made up of Cooper and Rob from the awesome Chicago cosmic-rock outfit, Cave, and indulge in more outward-bound, synth-heavy (and often beatless) shenanigans, which means their pairing with bearded folkster slob, Will Oldham, makes for a mighty weird pairing, at least on paper. But Bill is just musically flexible enough as a performer that his aches and groans work perfectly within BB's free-form, minimal electronics, as they are soaked up beautifully in the atmosphere and bring out the melodies to a tee. Two bloody records of it. It sounds like overkill, but it surely isn't. I could do with a few more recordings just like this one.

ORANSSI PAZUZU - Varahtelija
I wrote of this a few months ago. Head there for the juice. Finnish space-rock/Black Metal hybrid of the Nordic gods.

KRAKATAU - Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide
This is a recently-released 12"/mini LP from a Melbourne quartet whom I was utterly unaware of until a few months ago. They released an LP on the Trouble In Mind label in 2014, play shows around town - allegedly - and yet I never knew they existed until very recently. There you go. Upon hearing that there was a local jazz-fusion band known as Krakatau, my first thought was, Are you smarty-pants's aware of the Norwegian jazz-fusion band of the same name from the 1990s, featuring the celebrated guitarist, Raoul Bjorkenheim, at the helm? And then I heard the local band in question and concluded that surely it would be impossible for them NOT to have heard the Scandinavian outfit... So why the name? No idea. I saw the band play last month when they supported Severed Heads at the big festival gathering at the State Library. I was watching them with a friend who happens to play in about three-dozen bands himself, when he turned to me and said, 'Let's go to the bar; Krakatau are a band best heard and not seen'. I had to agree. I like this recording a lot, but in a live scenario the band emits a certain goose-necking smugness which can be mighty hard to tolerate. They have the aura of well-studied VCA graduates who are getting high off the smell of their own piss. Regardless, they are probably nice fellows, and I did also highly enjoy the '70s ECM vibe of what it was they were playing. This record in question is a slightly different beast. I would place it within the category of 'Record Collector Music', as it is most certainly the product of gentlemen who spend inordinate amounts of time thumbing their way through crates of records. If they have not heard the sounds of Marc Moulin's Placebo or Klaus Weiss' Sunbirds, then I will eat my hat with a suitable garnish. But again: THAT'S OK. I like records, too. And they've put their knowledge to good use, because this record, along with its beautifully garish cover, sounds like it came out of the European continent in 1974. It sounds alien to its origins, and it sounds perfect to me.

PS - I will undoubtedly recall about a dozen omissions from this list within 10 minutes of pressing 'publish', but there you go. OVER/OUT, for now.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Well, fuck... don't thank me for this. Don't thank anyone. This new release was brought to my attention by a friend who grew up on the early stable of Earache artists, notably NAPALM DEATH, CARCASS, BOLT THROWER, ENTOMBED, GODFLESH, MORBID ANGEL et al. For him, Earache was his SST, so to speak; and, like SST's demise, Earache's decline in quality is so fucking obvious you could chart it on a bar graph.

It's not like I've been following the label. Hell, outside of Digby Pearson and his accountants, I don't think anyone has been following the parade of embarrassments Earache has been dragging out the past 15 - 20 years. I was well aware of Earache's standing in the grand scheme of things back when it was at its peak as a label and tastemaker (that'd be approximately 1987 - 1993) - and I heard (and in some cases owned) and enjoyed those crucial early records by Napalm Death, Carcass, Godflesh, etc. - but it was a dabbling and diversion for moi, and not something I focussed on as a steady musical diet. In the mid '90s I found myself working for their Australian distributor, and in some cases licensor, and so was very privy to what was going on with the label. The woeful outfit known as Dub War, who sounded like a bogus heavy metal stew of The Police and I Against I-period Bad Brains, made quite a splash and toured here at the time (I saw them - then again, I had freebies and saw just about every international act I could get freebies for; PS - they sucked), and some of the more purist metalheads I worked with bemoaned the unmetallic nature of Earache's venturing.

I thought it was a good idea for the label to wander outside its musical comfort zone, but only if the results were what I considered 'good'. One such release was Scorn's Gyral from 1996. Featuring ex-Napalm Death skinsman Mick Harris at the helm, the band/project known as Scorn had drifted from being a Swans/Head Of David/Godflesh-style 'heavy' rock outfit to a minimalist, percussion-based electronic proposition whose sounds prefigured Burial and other progenitors of what is known as 'dubstep' (you may have heard of it) by a couple of decades. I have been informed that his minimal success with Scorn, who pioneered a sound which was hugely popular decades later, has embittered him to no end - that may or may not be true, however. Gyral was Scorn's last release on Earache; they continued on for several more excellent releases on other labels, and Mick also had the ultra-minimalist, 'isolationist' project, Lull, who also did some fascinating recordings. But I'm losing focus here: the point is: Scorn's Gyral was licensed for the Australian market - and sold zip. And there were the Industrial Fucking Strength compilations and the equally woeful forays into 'hardcore'/'gabba' XTRM dance music with Ultraviolence and Johnny Violent, none of which took off; and by the time they released the debut by the now utterly forgotten Janus Stark - a band who - get this - featured the guitarist from The Prodigy - it was all over. Well, I recall liking those Iron Monkey albums they did, but nothing else springs to mind. I saw Napalm Death play in, was it 1997? Another freebie. They were fucking terrible. I left before they finished. ND made a great 'grind' band, but as a 'death metal' band, they were an utter failure - musically, if not commercially. I do not consider the terms 'grindcore' and 'death metal' interchangeable. I also saw Cathedral during this period. By this stage (that's probably 1997 or '98), their recordings were horrible, but as a live band they could still cut it in a to-the-point 'heavy' Sabbathian manner, something their records could definitely no longer achieve.

Approximately six or seven years ago, I found myself reappraising and hugely enjoying some of the groundbreaking recordings from the earlier days of the label: the first two LPs by Napalm Death and Carcass (these four albums are totally essential for anyone with a taste for noise), Godflesh's Streetcleaner, Scorn's output, Bolt Thrower's first 3 or 4 discs (a band who were a human punchline back in the day, but those records are great), Cathedral's Forest Of Equilibrium and others. In the pantheon of rock music, these are important recordings. What will never be important is the entire recorded works of Danny Worsnop. I know nothing of him, except that he is also the vocalist in two bands with improbably awful names such as Asking Alexandria and We Are Harlot. The former is a 'metalcore' outfit (excuse the language), the latter is a 'hard rock supergroup' featuring some other dickheads. What in the fucking fuck Digby Pearson is doing releasing a record by Worsnop is possibly something which can only be discussed between himself and his therapist, because I can't locate a logical reason for it. Earache has released some utter tripe in recent years - hello Massive and Rival Sons - but this is a new low. I'm not sure why I care. I'm not sure I do. I just thought you should know that Earache, nearly 30 years after the release of Scum, is about to release a recording which sounds like the missing link between Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker and Alan Jackson. Knock yourself out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Some random nonsense...

I heard the song below, The Animals' 'Outcast', recently in a film I watched. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the film was. It was a couple of months ago, and obviously not memorable. But the song in question was. I found myself freeze-framing the credits at the end so I could find out who sang the track in question. Like many of the 'original' Animals' singles (before the band lost half its membership and split for California in '66), it's a cover of a soul/R & B tune, this one penned by Eddie and Ernie, a duo I must claim ignorance of. Anyway, the sheer psychedelic soul-power of Eric Burdon and co.'s rendition, with that wicked fuzzed guitar, is the sound that puts a skip in one's step. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.

And in regards to some belated SST worship - it's been a week or two - there's this footage of Saccharine Trust and Minutemen at the Anti-Club in '82. Oh yeah, there's Turds In Space thrown in the mix, too, which is some Spot avant project I kinda skipped through. But the 'Trust and the 'Men - oooooh, boy! - at this stage of the game they were writing a new rule book to tear up. It's interesting seeing just how low-key this whole mythical scene was back in its earlier days. Word is - according to someone, maybe Watt or Carducci - that the Minutemen never really got themselves an audience outside of their immediate peers, friends and gushing critics until Double Nickels was released and won them a wider audience. That may indeed be true. The 'Trust have never won themselves a wide audience, but you can't blame me for trying.

Lastly, there's Frank Zappa and his band of longhairs circa 1973. I noted a few posts ago that early '70s Zappa - which I had previously poo-poo'd - has been quite an obsession of mine the past 12 months, and it hasn't abated yet. This is a pretty excellent example of the freak show he and his band were at the time, and gathering by the number of Zappa-influenced bands who came out of Europe in the early '70s (I am fond of saying - oh, so fond of saying - that 70% of the Nurse With Wound list is merely made up of European art-rock gimps trying to copy Zappa and Soft Machine), I can only assume he made quite an impact. Enjoy. You've earned it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


The two albums released by the band known as LATIN PLAYBOYS in 1994 and 1999 - that's Latin Playboys and Dose, respectively - are worth considering and hearing. I recall them being played a lot here on community radio at the time, winning huge critical praise (Album Of The Years from various places), and yet I'm willing to bet that they didn't actually sell a whole lot and seem to be scarcely even remembered at this point in history. Latin Playboys were essentially a studio project for David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, both well know for their longtime work with Los Lobos, and their producer/muso friends, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Los Lobos, as I hope you know, add up to a whole lot more than that band who did the La Bamba soundtrack (which was fucking ubiquitous back here in the day, and probably ruined the band for an eternity for many). Some interesting points to note: the band has been around since 1974, formed by a group of young Latino Americans with a fondness for traditional Mexican music, Ry Cooder and Richard Thompson (not the staple music diet of a typical teen at the time); they released an independent LP way back in 1978 (a record, I have just discovered, which fetches stupid money on Discogs); they made their first real splash on the LA punk scene, supporting Public Image's first show in LA in 1980; their longtime brass/wind man is Steve Berlin, he of the Flesh Eaters/Blasters; and their 1992 LP, Kiko, one often described as their 'experimental' album, is totally fucking magnificent, and a real fave of mine - it as a beautiful sparseness to it, with sweet harmonies and off-kilter percussion. And there are other albums in their vast discography to consider, too (their first 'proper' LP, 1984's How Will The Wolf Survive?, is also tops), but let's speak of Latin Playboys.

This band I speak of were put together by Hidalgo and Perez after their experience recording Kiko and a desire to get deeper with their musical experimentation. In essence, let's cut the horseshit and call 'em what they were: an experimental side project. The band took the Latin/roots approach of their more famous other group and melded it into an avant-garde take thereof, with scratchy guitars, feedback, noisy electronics, tinny percussion and songs which appear to be on the verge of falling apart. Roll it all together into a recording approach which basically sounds like a rough demo - which is how the band came to be in the first place - and that's Latin Playboys. If I was to compare it to anything - and of course I must - the closest approximation would be Tom Waits' more 'out' recordings, such as Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones and the Black Rider score, although Latin Playboys' approach is more haphazard, bringing to mind the way someone like, oh dear god, Guided By Voices put albums together circa 1990 - 1993 (please note: Latin Playboys and GBV sound absolutely nothing like each other; I am merely pointing out the 'sketch'-like approach to song craft both bands had at one point). Here's a bunch of killer tracks which give you an overview of their oeuvre: 'Viva La Raza', 'New Zandu', 'Same Brown Earth', 'Crayon Sun', 'Fiesta Erotica', 'Locoman' and 'Paula Y Fred'. What's interesting, too, is that, despite being recorded and released 5 years apart, the albums sound like they could've sprung from the same recording session. There is little differentiating the two in regards to quality and style. Both were released on Slash at the time, who were probably riding high on the success of drek like Faith No More and L7 at the time (as well as the general boost the whole biz had in the '90s), and since that day will never likely come again, you can probably forget about a semi-major recording company indulging their talent to this extent once more. Whatever. Here's the good news: Latin Playboys, and the two terrific albums they released in the '90s, are largely forgotten these days, and you can probably pick up the CDs for a buck or two a piece from a charity store with ease, as I did. For totally deconstructed and reconstructed Latin rock & roll, they're hard to beat.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Random groovy tunes...

No rhyme, no reason, a sample of some cuts getting a spin...

The name RUN WESTY RUN will garner a variety of reactions from dear readers. I can only gather that the majority one will be a befuddled WHO? Others will wonder why on earth I'm scraping the bottom of the SST barrel by giving them any coverage whatsoever. And there will be a few true believers who will acknowledge that their self-titled debut LP from 1988 - whilst no classic in this or any alternate universe - can at least boast a couple of pretty bumper tunes in a kinda forgettable late-'80s college-rock vein. Yes, I'm damning it with some faint praise there, but praise it still is. There's this cut, 'Curled Ending', which for me is the highlight of the disc in question, always the track I go for when I pull the LP off the shelf for its annual spin, and since it's on YouTube, I probably don't even need to go to that much effort anymore. I read somewhere that Grant Hart recommended the band to Ginn/Dukowski and co., the band being Minneapolis natives who were mining a kind of late-period Replacements/Huskers vein (certainly not the most inspiring period for either band, but whatever), and of course it's easy to dismiss their two LPs on SST as an excercise in pure pointlessness when the label was throwing piles of shit against the wall, I bear them no grudge for their efforts. They released two full-lengthers on the label before switching to their hometown imprint, Twin/Tone, in 1990 for one more exercise in recorded nothingness and disappeared thereafter. For someone somewhere I'm sure they're a musical big deal, and I do not mean to shit on your parade. I think they had one or two bright, shining moments, and the rest of their oeuvre belongs in the bargain bin, where it likely resides today. Still, those few shining moments were pretty damn great. For the record, I bought my beat-up cut-out copy of this LP about two decades ago; the version I heard and played in my younger days was my brother's which he received in a 3PBS radio competition in early 1999, in which he won an "SST prize pack' containing RWR, SWA's Winter LP and something else I forget. Score!

Let's quickly ponder LA's X, not the Australian one, who have pondered here before. They are or at least were an obvious entry point for many into the world of west coast punk back in the day, although for many I can only assume they were considered too much of a musical half-measure to be that inspiring, or maybe it was their descent into fairly mundane college-rock which has spoilt their musical legacy for many. They're not a band who ever got my blood running in a major way, although I always liked their interviews and live footage from the original Decline... film, and always had a soft spot for the John Doe/Exene musical partnership and their various musical endeavours (their roots band, The Knitters, who also featured Blasters folks, put out a great album in '85; and let's not forget John Doe's guest appearance on Tom Troccoli's sole LP on SST - I know you've been trying, but I thought I'd remind you). So, it comes to be that now, in my mid 40s, I have been greatly enjoying their first two LPs a whole lot. I bought 'em both about 20 years back for about a ha'penny a piece, and it's not like I've never not enjoyed them, but lately their rotation has been 'heavy', as opposed to an annual pity-spin. Although X were first-gen LA punker, they never really had the wild musical bent nor nihilism of many of their pears, whether they be other first-gen punkers (Weirdos/Screamers/Germs) or suburban HC slammers (Black Flag/Adolescents/Circle Jerks/Fear), but that doesn't mean their more polished and mature 'rock' sound is something to dismiss. It does, after all, 'rock'. For my money, their second effort, 1981's Wild Gift, is a better musical proposition than the debut, 1980's Los Angeles. Both were produced by Ray Manzarek (a man who staked his claim in life as 'an ex-member of The Doors'), though from all reports, Ray was a genuine fan of this crazy new music scene and wanted to do it justice in the studio. I think he succeeded moreso with his second effort. Song-wise, both LPs are stylistically similar - a Ramones-damaged mid-tempo punk rock approach with Billy Zoom's rockabilly inflections scattered throughout - but that claustrophobic, tight-assed sound Manzarek got on the debut is unleashed on Wild Gift, and it sounds like it's got some air to breathe. It sounds like a real punk rock recording, whereas the debut sounds like someone sucked the rock out of it. Got me? Good. Both albums have their fair share of boss cuts familiar to all and sundry, but Wild Gift has 'We're Desperate', 'I'm Coming Over' and 'In This House That I Call Home', and you need all of the above. I'd rate both as quite mandatory, should you be attempting to get your head around US punk rock of the past 40 years. The critics loved 'em, of coirse, but don't hate 'em because of it.

And onto something completely different. I've been heavily absorbing the, err, heavy sounds of Wales' BUDGIE the past 12 months. So much so, I have actually splurged on physical copies (their essential albums from the 1970s have been granted rather swish vinyl reissues) to show my fandom, or something or other. I was made aware of their catalogue at two previous places of work, one in the latter half of the '90s, and one this century. In both workplaces I was situated within spitting distance of a vocal fan, and I came to appreciate the crunching, boogified nature of their power-trio ways. For the record, Budgie's first four albums from 1971 - '75, at the very least, I would rate as essential stabs of pre-punk hard rock a smidgen under the A-level sludge of Black Sabbath: that's Budgie, Squawk, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend and In For The Kill. Yes, there's a picture of a fucking budgie on every single album cover, with said picture often used as a pun in connection with the album title. Why the name Budgie? No idea, though I'm sure there's a ripper of a story behind it. Led by bassist/voclaist, Burke Shelley (and guitarist Tony Bourge was there for their best years, too), and formed in 1967, the obvious comparisons for their sonics would be Black Sabbath, Led Zep and Rush, although one should probably clarify a few things: Budgie never contained the monumental bong-rattling heaviness of 'Sabbath, the musical eclecticsm of Zep nor the technical wizardry/tedium or Rush. They occupied their own space somewhere between all three, and a nice space it be. In the realms of pre-Ramonic hard rock - that certain brand of guitar-heavy boogified no-brains-necessary realm of guitar/bass/drums aktion where frankly rather unattractive men in horrible clothes made beautiful noise - I would give them a ticket to sainthood. Like many of their hard-rock brethren, things started going pear-shaped by the time punk hit. It's not that punk wiped the floor with them and the old guard just shut up shop: much of the old guard, or at least those who made great music between the years 1970 - 1975, were simply running on empty by 1976. Inspiration only lasts so long. For many of the first-wave punkers, they were lucky to make it past 1979 without humiliating themselves in the process, so let's not say I'm being unkind here. Hard to pick a fave between the four because they're all good and all follow a similar path: cowbell, rifferama both slow and fast, an occasional acoiustic track and Shelley's squeezed-testicles vocals telling a story of a devil woman or thereabouts. Great song titles, too: any band who can sing a song entitled 'Hot As A Docker's Armpit' deserves your undying love. Many bands you know and love, and some you probably don't, have a great fondness for Budgie, which, by the natural laws of physics, means you should give them a listen.