Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Oh dear god, it had to happen. I have finally been swayed by the madness of Lewis. Actually, the beauty of Lewis Baloue (AKA Randall A. Wulff) and his music hit me just pre-Xmas when an old friend who has a vaguely similar musical background to myself and has also been busy breeding and raising chill'uns the past near-decade recommended his music heavily to me on one of our regular playground/park dates (children are involved - don't even start). We had both come to the conclusion that we were looking for listening of the easy variety, that testing our sensibilities with the most outrageously challenging audio torture the past 20+ years had become a chore, and, to keep it brief, we both acknowledged our status as middle-aged white men who needed some smooth tunes to iron out the jagged edges in our lives. Music of a special banality which we could lose ourselves in.
I was aware of the 'Lewis discovery' which label Light In The Attic had taken on in semi-recent times, but I hadn't paid much attention. Sounded like a possibly interesting story, but it also sounded like a load of utter collector nonsense best left for people who don't really listen to the music, or, worse, a prank played on the gullible (something I could only assume LITA wouldn't partake in). Lewis is/was, of course, a Canadian of mysterious origin who released these albums at the time (using the photographic skills of Ed Colver with a bounced cheque!) and then disappeared back up to the Great White North. Regardless of all this, I only exposed myself to Lewis' music as music more recently than I should have been, and his music is worth your time and then some.
Indeed, his two self-released LPs, 1983's L'amour and 1985's Romantic Times, are albums of great beauty. The delivery of the material is so ethereal and lightweight it feels like they're about to float away. My friend who introduced me to these discs described them as sounding like Julio Iglesias produced by Angelo Badalamenti, and that's about as close as you're going to get to a perfectly accurate description. If I was going to throw in my own quarter-arsed description (and you know I must), I'd say the two albums - both of which are very similar, although Romantic Times sees the sound fleshed out ever-so-slightly with a touch of, err, romantic saxophone in the mix - approximate what might have happened if Alan Vega and Arthur Russell had collaborated at the dawn of the '80s. Or if Cluster and Eno recorded an album for lovers. That's two quarter-arsed descriptions, officially now making it a half-arsed effort. I'm available for freelance press-release work, by the way.
Lewis' breathy vocals bring to mind a man with such romantic visions of life that he's on the verge of collapse. The basic synth-string and electric piano backing augments this passion perfectly. He sounds like he looks: a man in a white suit playing in front of a plastic palm tree in a sleazy bar - but don't ever confuse it with kitsch, because I'm too old and pathetic to be enthralled with such a cheap gimmick. He was obviously a man of very real intentions with his music - romantic balladry for lonely lovers - but the unintentionally kosmiche nature of the music (check 'Love Showered Me') pushes it beyond the sublime and into its own stratosphere. It is something to behold. I am likely the last person on earth to put this in print, but the music of Lewis is awesomely strange and strangely awesome. L'amour and Romantic Times are worth all the hype bestowed upon them and then some. I liked 'em so much I pur-charsed them in the physical format, feeling that I needed to own a little piece of the man as a sign of my fandom. They're on their way to being out of print permanently - Randall doesn't want them around no more - so if you're even more behind the times than moi, you should get on it, toot sweet.
There are but many fantastic tracks on both albums, and you can find them all very easily on Youtube, but below remains my favourite, 'Like To See You Again'...
Friday, March 13, 2015
There's plenty of footage of Mahavishnu Orchestra in their prime on Youtube, but I thought I'd share this one because I dig the rawness of both the footage and the performance itself. Jazz-fusion, much like prog-rock, has become a four-letter word in the post-punk universe, and perhaps for very good reason, but one should also take into account that both terms denote a rather broad frame of sound, and both, at least in this writer's opinion, started off as great ideas (with some exciting original practitioners) which ran amok - and down the musical toilet - within a couple of years due to the self-indulgence of many involved. More or less, there are similar stories regarding '50s rock & roll, R & B, psychedelia, prog, glam, punk rock, hardcore, post-rock, etc.: the great works of the early pioneers, the decline of said pioneers, the imitators and the dross which followed. The point: there is gold to be had in the pioneering early days of jazz-fusion.
I have spoken of the electric works of Miles Davis in this blog many times (his albums from 1969 - 1975 remains possibly my favourite catalogue of music ever released), and, despite my descriptive terms for these recordings handily avoiding the 'F' word (psychedelic astro-funk, acid/voodoo-funk, et al), they remain a collision between the worlds of jazz and rock: FUSION. And there is also the great early works of Tony Williams' Lifetime to consider - and once you've finished considering, you should give them a listen: 1969's Emergency! and 1970's Turn It Over are brain-bending clumps of organic, free-form sound (augmented with handy work from Larry Young, John McLaughlin and Jack Bruce) which fit in perfectly w/ the better soundscapes of their era (think Ornette/Beefheart/Soft Machine). And of course there's John McLaughlin's first two ensemble recordings under his own name, also from 1969 and '70: Extrapolation and Devotion, both molten slabs of high-energy guitar-driven mania. Fusion.
Herbie Hancock did a series of highly listenable hard-bop discs on Blue Note in the '60s before spending time in Miles' Quintet and then releasing a trio of terrific, abstract fusion discs in the early '70s: Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant (that's '70 - '73). The last platter to matter there is particularly the one to get: Sextant is a mass of outer-space gonzo psych-tinged avant-funk on a par w/ Miles' On The Corner. After that Hancock made it big w/ Headhunters and a series of jazz-funk albums which went off the musical rails for me, but whatever musical pitfalls followed, those discs are worth the time. You could also throw in Weather Report's second LP, I Sing The Body Electric, from 1972, in there, too. Their self-titled debut from the year previous is a fairly limp snoozefest, although the follow-up is a suprisingly intense fare w/ some distinctly angular avant-jazz/rock moves which stands in distinct contrast to the dull, noodling chopsfest they would soon devolve into. There are, of course, many other examples to divulge, but I guess the point has been made. As with just about any codified genre (barring hard trance: I haven't found anything there I could yet tolerate in this lifetime), 'fusion' has its gold. It was a good idea which simply went sour quickly. Let's finally cut to the chase and discuss McLaughlin's post-Lifetime ensemble, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Mahavishnu hit it big w/ the college/'head' scene in the early '70s, and w/ Columbia's backing became a mainstay on the more progressive FM stations across the globe (they even made a dent in hillbilly Australia at the time, influencing the likes of Melbourne's MacKenzie Theory, whose 1973 debut longplayer, Out Of The Blue, is an essential slab of antipodean jazz/prog weirdness) - but really, the first two albums, 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame and '73's Birds Of Fire, are the only two you need. After that, the group's ouvre became lighter and less interesting and, by mid-decade, as dull as many of their fusion contemporaries. However, those first two offerings present the listener with - as I'm prone to utter to disbelievers - some HVY FKN JMZ. Sure, the presence of the likes of Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer (both names which would soon be uttered in fusion purgatory) meant there was musical flash galore, but the energy and intensity of the music being made meant the result added up to more than a day out at a drum clinic. It was a genuine fusion of rock instrumentation combined w/ the looseness of jazz arrangements and the exploratory nature of psychedelic rock. And need I mention that these discs remain Ground Zero for any admirer of the estimable guitar talents of Greg Ginn and Joe Baiza? Of course not. Do it.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
Much to the horror of some of my contemporaries who witnessed The Great Ry Cooder Tangent of 2014, my love for his work remains undiminished. Of course, there is the theory that one starts 'getting into' the likes of Ry Cooder once a certain middle-aged banality takes hold and one starts wearing earth-coloured hiking outfits and/or yoga pants and attending 'roots' festivals. Au contraire, you young bucks: Ry Cooder's finest work - and it ebbs and flows over 4+ decades - is fine work indeed, and anyone interested in great music of many a stripe are missing out if your nose is turned up at his great body of work.
Cooder, of course, was a child prodigy who, as a 19-year-old, played on Captain Beefheart's debut longplayer, Safe As Milk, having already spent time w/ Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons. He then went onto a lifetime of session work w/ the good (lots of the good), the bad and the ugly (yes, a few of those, too), soundtracks (Southern Comfort being my fave: both as a soundtrack and film), million-selling production work on the likes of the Buena Vista Social Club, an excellent collaboration w/ Malian great, Ali Farka Toure and a lot more besides. But really, let's keep this brief...
The first Cooder LP which turned my head, surprisingly, was a more recent recording: 2012's Election Special, given to me by a friend from the label. Highly political and left of the dial, this was Cooder's ode to the US election of that year, and it's a terrific collection of mainly raw & short roots/blues songs and ballads, reconfigured a la Tom Waits but played simply and to the point (try here and here) which took me by surprise, turning into one of my fave discs of that year. In turn and in time, I went backwards and explored his best '70s recordings - discs I would see vinyl copies clogging up secondhand bins en masse in the 1990s for a ha'penny a shot, but ones which are now, thanks to the fucking 'vinyl revolution', often going for more than I can be arsed doling out for.
Anyway, I have them now, and in the unfashionable compact disc format, since such future landfill can be purchased at but a ha'penny a piece: Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, Paradise & Lunch, Chicken Skin Music and Jazz. These are the goods. There are many reinterpretations of standard tunes - from Blind Willie Johnson to Woody Guthrie, Joseph Spence, Sleepy John Estes and Skip James - to covers of more recent songwriters (at the time), such as Randy Newman and Dan Penn's 'The Dark End Of The Street' (one of my favourites tunes ever); and 1978's Jazz is Cooder's tribute to/history of JAZZ as a music, covering the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Bex Beiderbecke. And a white guy pulls this all off with aplomb. Cooder is a master slidesman - such an observations seems trite - but his approach to the material, particularly on this great run of discs, is inspired.
I have been delving into, for the lack of a better term, Great American Music, the past 12+ months - and that's encompassed the likes of The Band (covered here in this blog before), Little Feat (first 2 - 3 LPs make perfect sense now), and even Los Lobos (a belated appreciation; some of those SST gents liked 'em a lot, and the one to get is 1992 'experimental' album, Kiko), but Cooder's '70s output is at the top of the pile. The self-titled debut from 1970, 1972's Boomer's Story and the aformentioned Jazz get my Hit Picks. If you've ever flipped a wig over the Meat Puppets' II - and if you haven't, you're reading the wrong blog - then particularly the former two remain essential purchases. They are desert-fried meisterwerks which deserve a home on your shelf.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
I have never once bandied around the name MAGAZINE with any kind of enthusiasm in the decade-plus existence of this blog - a blog, fer chrissakes, how antiquated is that? - and there's no time like now. My brother has owned an LP edition of the band's 1978 debut, Real Life, since the early '90s. Back in the day - the early '90s, that is - I would occasionally borrow it to spin, mainly because I wanted to hear 'The Light Pours Out Of Me' (ably covered by Trotsky Icepick on their El Kabong LP, of course) and 'Shot By Both Sides' - both bona fide post-punque classiques. But the rest of the album never made much of an impact on me. Compared to the likes of The Pop Group or PiL's more righteous moments (or indeed the great works of the Buzzcocks), it all sounded a little tres boringue to my short/fast/loud ears. Now that I've entered middle age and am willing to give just about anything a shot, Real Life has become a fixture. This reignition of interest was borne from a mere Facebook sharing c/o a friend of the above track: a blindingly good slab of angular punkified rock, one which Mr. Howard Devoto would probably take great pains in explaining it not to be 'punk rock' (and not to split hairs, but it really isn't.
Magazine are/were an odd entity: Howard Devoto left the Buzzcocks - one of the finest Brit '77 punker outfits, w/ or w/out Devoto at the helm - just when they were about to break big, claiming that 'punk' had become a bogus entity and wanted nothing to do w/ it. Given the tabloid nature of the yoof movement in Ol' Blighty by that point, he may have been right. A gutsy move which showed such integrity it bordered on career suicide. He held such sway as a burgeoning cult figure that Virgin Records pretty much signed his new outfit w/out having heard a note of their music (they were certainly signed prior to their first live show). Eschewing the visceral snarl of his contemporaries, Magazine were a very deliberate and even mannered take on 'art-rock', but one with enough rock energy under its individual players' belts to not wind up a snoozefest.
Firstly, there's guitarist John McGeogh (since deceased), who later spent time w/ Siouxsie & The Banshees (on their best discs) and PiL (on some of their worst, but don't blame him for that) - one of Limey post-punk's finest string-hitters; bass player, Barry Adamson, who later made a name for himself w/ the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist, whose nimble fingers really do add to the rhythms in Magazine's tuneage; and skinsman, Martin Jackson, a flashy player with more mounted toms than the average '77 punker (almost bordering on 'flash'), but one whose dexterity really added to their sound.
The 'sound' of '70s Magazine is one w/ obvious roots: early '70s Eno, specifically Here Come The Warm Jets/Taking Tiger Mountain (Devoto looked a whole lot like his hero, too) and the Berlin recordings of Mr. Bowie (primarily Low). In lesser hands, such allegiances to that kind of musical foppery (foppery I do indeed like a lot) might result in a decidely non-rocking affair not worth my time or yours, but 'rock' they did. Much like Wire's 2nd and 3rd LPs - which Magazine resemble in no small part - Real Life (and its follow-up, 1979's Secondhand Daylight: also well worth your time) show a sense of 'composition' and musicianship which appear above their station, but the musical sophistication never becomes a bore, the dynamic rhythms and textures of the songs, combined with the inherit energy of the material, making for a thrilling listen. Devoto is one odd duck, but he made some of the most exciting English music of the era. Solid.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
My introduction to the music of US '70s hard rock/heavy metal outfit, Mountain, came through a predictably roundabout route via a (fucking) SST record: The Blasting Concept II. On that very record from 1986 - and I believe I've repeated this story over the years to delighted rapture from no one - there was and is a cover of the Mountain arrangement of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western'. Here's a confession: up until Jack Bruce's passing late last year - and, boy, those first bunch of solo Bruce LPs are a gas - I didn't even know the damn song was penned by him. I always figured it was a Mountain original, and I was wrong. For that slight, I apologise. I would tell all and sundry of DC3's magnificent Mountain cover, sticking my foot in my mouth year after year, but really, no one noticed or cared, and Mountain's heavy-rock reimagining of Bruce's song is truly their own take on it, and obviously the better-known version. Onwards...
Much less known is DC3's. There's not even a Youtube link for the track, but for moi it remains the definitive version. DC3 - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit in the '80s, as if I need to say it - were pretty patchy, but on occassion delivered the goods. But back to Mountain: in their prime, which is from 1970 - '72, they were a monstrous musical proposition. Formed by bass player Felix Pappalardi and guitarist Leslie West in 1969, and joined by ace skin-hitter Corky Laing, they had 'form' and hit the heights in a heartbeat. West had been in the garage outfit the Vagrants and released a solo LP called Mountain; Pappalardi was classically trained and made his name as an arranger and particularly as a producer for Cream (hence the Jack Bruce connection). Throughout Mountain's on/off career in the '70s, Pappalardi continued to produce bands, notably the Dead Boys' flawed-but-still-great second effort, We Have Come For Your Children (and in this case, the flaws are all Pappalardi's: the band claimed he didn't get what the band was about and fudged it completely. I tend the agree, his gutless, guitar-lite production kills it), but had to cut back his musical duties by mid decade due to hearing problems caused by excessive volume (mostly c/o Mountain). He was later tragically shot by his own wife in 1983.
Much like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, and the music of Mountain sits comfortably between the two, Mountain created a loose, fluid and organic blast, one based in 'the blues' but not bogged down in bogus white-boy appropriations thereof. The result is an absolutely crunching and particularly American-sounding brand of hard rock, despite the fact that their musical inspirations (outside of the blues itself) were obviously from Ol' Blighty (Cream, The Who, Hendrix - I'll include him and his Experience as Limeys by default). They sold a lot of records in the first half of the 1970s, when such a band could do such things, and such a predicament always gets me thinking: why did Mountain work in the record-buying market, at least for 3 or 4 years, while the likes of the MC5 and the Stooges tanked? Mountain's first two albums, the best ones, 1970's Climbing and '71's Nantucket Sleighride don't sound a whole lot different from the MC5's High Time LP from '71 (that band's finest hour, too) - high-energy rock & roll with some boogie, garage and primal metal in the mix - but Mountain made the FM waves and the MC5 sunk. Whatever. If you feel the urge to listen to a 'classic rock station' (I don't) playing the hits of yesteryear, you might, just might hear Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', but ironically the likes of the Stooges and the MC5 now probably hold a higher public profile than Leslie West's band of yore. Ask anyone under the age of 30 about Mountain and wait for the response.
All this waffle brings me to an eventual point: Mountain were/are worth the time and trouble. Those first two LPs, and indeed 1974's live opus, Twin Peaks, are some of the great American hard rock/heavy metal albums of the pre-punk era. The band could rip out a 10-minute track simply called 'Guitar Solo', one which surfaces on several live albums of the time (there's a series of them worth a listen) and varies in form and substance from performance to performance, which actually doesn't make me want to skip the FFWD button. That's saying something.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
"Hoss doesn't do choruses". That's what Hoss head honcho, Joel Silbersher, said to me last year. Melbourne outfit Hoss have been around for quarter of a century now. Joel is the unofficial leader of the band, one which originally arose from the ashes of the recently-dissolved teen wunders, GOD. You can't possibly expect me to write about Hoss without mentioning them, can you? It irks Joel that he is largely remembered for penning a tune he dismisses as a dumb teenage lark built around an obviously ace riff, but I'd like to counter that by saying that the smart among us know a couple of things: A) He's written a lot of great music in the past 25+ years, a good deal of it better than that one song; B) 'My Pal' still sounds great and really was a watershed song in the history of Australian underground music in the 1980s (certainly meant a bunch to me, and still does); and C) Most people on earth will not be remembered for anything, so suck it up and be grateful you'll be remembered at all.
Anyway, I saw Hoss quite a bit back in the '90s - I saw just about everyone quite a bit back then - as the weight of the world's problems and fatherhood didn't keep me housebound much of the time (actually, I exaggerate: the past 12 months has seen me hit the live circuit with a vigour not seen since the glory days of the Clinton era). Thing is, and this was remarked to me by Joel: I didn't really like them all that much back then. They simply played on a lot of bills in which I happened to be in the same room, perhaps seeing a band above or beneath them on the bill, but Hoss weren't a band I paid a lot of attention to even when they were right in front of me. They were just there. To say that I disliked would also be far from the truth.
"The Langs don't like Hoss". That's another quote from Joel. He said that a couple of years ago. I think he sensed that we - my brother and I - didn't like his band. Our lack of enthusiasm might have been palpable. I have caught them a number of times in the past decade, on the rare occassion that they play - like I said, I'm always just hangin' around - and I'd often remark to my friends that I just don't get Hoss. I would make these remarks to a couple of compadres who were absolutely dedicated fans of the band, people (smart people, like my friends tend to be) who were totally convinced of the band's greatness and were equally perpelexed by their lack of success in the marketplace and tastemaker world of underground rock & roll as we know it. I would shrug my shoulders and retort that the band's lack of success made perfect sense to me. I would also remark that I'd love to see Joel make a million bucks off his music and that he damn well deserved something for his efforts. In the 1990s, he released an excellent low-key folk/singer-songwriter duo album recorded with Charlie Owen (New Christs, etc.) under the name Tendrils, and I recall his fruity solo album on Mick Turner's King Crab label in the early noughties being a fine thing indeed. And then there was Hoss.
"We're a mongrel band, people don't get us". Another quote straight from the horse's mouth to me, uttered roughly a year ago. That was Joel explaining to me Hoss's musical bastardry, after I told him the band had finally hit a serious nerve in my mind and caused a great, visceral reaction of absolute pleasure within my synapses. 18 months back, when I was looking at reissuing some old Australian punk/rock classics on a label I was (and am) operating as part of my day job, I borrowed a bunch of '90s releases on the Dog Meat from its owner/operator, David Laing (just to confuse you further). Mr. Laing: I still have to give them back to you, hard as it will be to part with them. I owned said records back in the day: Powder Monkeys, Splatterheads and, yep, Hoss, but had parted with them in the intervening years, for whatever reason. The former two needed no reassessing, but I wanted to get my head around Hoss. Hell, I wanted to get my head into Hoss. The CDs in question were 1992's You Get Nothing, '93's Bring On The Juice, 1995's Everyday Lies (actually, I managed to locate this one secondhand) and the one post-Dog Meat release, the label having folded by then, 1998's Do You Leave Here Often? I then borrowed my brother's copy of their 1990 debut, Guzzle, released on the Au-go-go label when half of Hoss consisted of 2/5ths of the Seminal Rats: Mick Weber and Todd McNeair.
I drank deep. At first I considered it 'research': should I propose vinyl reissues to Joel? Would anyone care? The four key releases started making a serious impact on my psyche: You Get Nothing, Bring On The Juice, Everyday Lies, Do You Leave Here Often? The musical mongrel made perfect sense. Hoss don't write choruses, they are not a pop band. They are more than just Joel. A great deal of credit must be given to bassist Scott Bailey and particularly guitarist Jimmy Sfetsos, and drummers past (big-haired Michael Glenn, a flashy player of considerable chops) and present (Dean Muller, now also hitting skins for the Cosmic Psychos). Hoss are ostensibly a 'punk-influenced hard rock band'. They are not a 'punk' band, and no matter what guidebook description may pop up on the 'net, they're no rote 'hard rock band'. But there is nothing wrong with rocking hard and being a little punk about it, so all of these things should be considered a positive thing. Inside the mind of Hoss is the Blue Oyster Cult before they turned to AOR mush, ditto for Aerosmith, Jealous Again/Damaged-era Black Flag, Husker Du and Squirrel Bait (Joel will never avoid such comparisons), the hard boogie of High Time-era MC5 and Mountain, the downer-doom of early 'Sabbath, the Stonesy yawp of Chris D. and the Flesh Eaters, the deep songcraft of Richard Thompson and the deconstruction of the Dead C. I know for a fact that Joel likes all of the above and then some, but Hoss are a musical unit which writes its own score and doesn't merely regurgitate record collections.
Those four discs in question are, to my mind, the four crucial statements from one of the great, totally un(der)-heralded Australian bands of the past quarter century. They are not merely the same: You Get Nothing and Bring On The Juice sounding quite different to the subsequent full-lengthers. The former two are tight, well-produced, 'heavy' and metallic (which doesn't make them heavy metal, although perhaps in a '70s purist sense they are) - dynamic statements of power. Everyday Lies and particularly Do You Leave Here Often? are more eclectic, loose, often falling apart in glorious ways, lo-fi, song pieces being picked up then discarded, tracks dissolving into noise. There's no choruses, but there's hooks. You just have to give Hoss time. Hell, it took me my whole adult life to come to grips with them.
So, the year 2014 was, for me, the year of Hoss. It was the year of Ry Cooder's first 6 albums. The year of Van der Graaf Generator. The year of Sparks. The year of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac. The year of The Who before they devolved into rock-opera pretensions. And among all that was the other musical nonsense which fills my head, new and old. That was the sound which kept the thunder out of my head. Nobody hates an arse-kisser more than Joel, and there's no butt-licking present here. Just the facts, ma'am. The music of Hoss has belatedly melted my mind, and I think you should take the time to let the strange music mongrelism, the unashamed 'rock' of a higher order performed and recorded by the Melbourne band Hoss, to weave something into your skull. They're still around, and I'm told there's more to come.
Monday, January 26, 2015
The lowdown on a handful of releases which are being spun...
In my bid to transform into Tommy Saxondale, I have been delving into the back catalogue (there is no 'current' catalogue to speak of) of British band of yore, Traffic. Traffic were an interesting and eclectic outfit for a nominally 'rock' band of some success, one who experimented with the form in unique ways whose catalogue, at different turns, reminds me of everyone from Jefferson Airplane to Soft Machine to Amon Duul 2. The group's Steve Winwood, fresh from the Spencer Davis Group at the time, later made a major name for himself as an AOR putz (though this slice of MOR gold still holds some pleasant childhood memories: deal with it), but back in his early days still held a pioneering sensibility, mixing his pop ambitions with a progressive brand of rock music taking cues from English psychedelia (Soft Machine/Pink Floyd/Fairports), jazz improvisation and Eastern exotica (as many did in a universe inhabited by George Harrison and his popularisation of the form).
Winwood was not the only Traffic member worth taking note of: their history is littered with line-up changes (starting in '67, they even folded in 1969 for a year whilst Winwood formed and dissolved Blind Faith for one album), though fellow members Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi also made serious contributions to the band's sound - and to complicate things further, Mason is not present on 1971's The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, the album I will ostensibly discuss.
The 'Only In My Dreams' is the one which gets most of the attention, and its 12 minutes of descending piano lines and moaning of the great injustices of the music biz are lovely indeed. It's as English as a cup o' tea and dripping for breakfast, and the band's quintessential Englishness is of course part of their appeal. My pick is the opener, 'Hidden Treasure', a 'rock' song with whimsy and the major presence of flute which won't make you vomit. It's all rather lovely, as are a number of other Traffic LPs, such as its predecessor, John Barleycorn Must Die (progified white soul at its peak). The group took the basic template of late-period Beatles - when the band got really interesting - and stamped a particular brand of loose, jazzy English progressive rock (without being 'prog-rock') mixed with various 'world' influences on top. Signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records label - a swell place to be - they fit in snugly next to their bucolic Limey cohorts, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Nick Drake, etc. I can stand them, and then some.
Welcome to 2015, here's a 2012 album from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. I had largely ignored Mr. Pink's discography until 6 months ago. I had heard some of his earlier work a number of years ago when his name was first being made, and it wasn't so much his music which turned me off (his earlier albums are very rough, musically, almost like lo-fi mix tapes), but the silliness of the music press at the time, which as always was trying to codify a movement out of nothing, thus branding Pink and his cohorts as 'hypnagogic pop' (ask David Keenan about that - I don't believe anyone on earth has re-used such a term in the past half-decade).
Anyway, I didn't hold it against AP - I just ignored his music for a number of years, as I tend to ignore most things on earth (except for this track, which was omnipresent and undeniably catchy). So all of this takes me to 2015. No, actually, it takes me to the winter of 2014: somehow or other I heard a couple of cuts from his 2012 LP, Mature Themes, and the goodness, nay, greatness of what I was hearing took me back. This is that guy, adored my young people so much more beautiful, young and groovy I could ever expect to be at this stage in my life? It was. It is. Ariel Pink makes excellent music - let me say that. I rate him as the spiritual and musical heir to Kramer and the Shimmy Disc circus (Bongwater, Shockabilly, Dogbowl, King Missile, et al) he built around himself some 25+ years ago (an empire long gone, alas).
Certainly, the music 'Pink has been making for the last five years on the 4AD label - 2010's Before Today, 2012's Mature Themes and most definitely last year's Pom Pom 2LP set - bear some resemblances to that classic Shimmy Disc 'sound' (which you know I love). They are such perfect encapsulations of the freak-rock ouvre - think of a road map circling Syd/Ayers/Beefheart/Mothers mixed w/ a dash of Roxy art-rock and Bolan boogie - that I will say this: I'm surprised he sells as many records as he does. I've always figured that shit rises to the top, at least in the music biz of the last 35+ years, and Mr. Pink bucks the trend. Not that he sells zillions of records, but for an artist I rate as worthy, he does well for himself, and most unfortunately don't. I could, of course, discuss any of the three records mentioned, but since I just purchased Mature Themes in the LP format just the other day (another rare birthday-related indulgence, I'll admit), it is the one I'll focus on.
Dig the opening cut, 'Kinski Assassin': tell me that isn't an A-grace slice of unhinged pop music. Go on. Or 'Only In My Dreams': sunshine pop a la The Association/5th Dimension w/ a David Crosby/Dennis Wilson hash-imbibing gonzo vibe sprinkled on top. Or thereabouts. Lastly, I will pick side B, track 1, as a highlight: 'Schnitzel Boogie'. It's like Zoogz Rift if he actually made good records which went above and beyond pure schtick. I can't speak for Ariel Pink's slightly annoying public persona, nor do I really care to analyse or defend it - it doesn't interest me enough either way. I do, however, think he is currently in the thick of releasing a series of excellent slabs of eccentric rock music, and the fact that he has recently roped in Don Bolles (yes, thee Don Bolles, and if I have to explain who he is, then you probably won't care who he is) into his band as the skins man makes perfect sense. Ariel Pink's music is weird and wonderful and never merely whacky: its eccentricities serve as a reflection of its creator's personality, and I endorse these recordings without hesitation.