Thursday, December 31, 2015

GLENN PHILLIPS - Lost At Sea 2LP


Somehow or other, this obscure gem, now reissued c/o Feeding Tube/Shagrat for the non-masses, has escaped my knowledge base until the last few weeks, and I feel like a putz for my ignorance. It's a beautiful thing.

Guitarist Glenn Phillips has an interesting history. For one, he played guitar on one of my fave obscuro discs of all time - Hampton Grease Band's gonzo 2LP epic, Music To Eat. Originally released in 1971, it completely tanked in the marketplace but found itself a cult audience later on, with even Steven Stapleton listing him in the infamous Nurse With Wound list. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, US of A, they were loved by Frank Zappa and landed bills with the likes of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead (all fairly good indications of their sound), but their freeform brand of psychedelic southern boogie rock never made a dent, and for many years it was Columbia's second-worst-selling album of all time. Columbia actually did reissue it as a nicely-packaged 2CD set in the mid '90s - the edition I have, soon deleted - and I believe the story behind that reissue is something along the lines of Pearl Jam's manager being such a huge fan of the album (and at this stage PJ had sold a zillion records and had a fair amount of pull at the label) that it was rereleased on his wishes by a thoroughly disinterested label. Anyway! The sound of HGB veered towards the orbit of Zappa/Beefheart with the jamming tendencies of the Grateful Dead and the southern roots twang of the Allmans or Little Feat (whom he played with). Since I LOVE all of the above, that recipe sounds mighty fine to me. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you give a shit or not.

Which brings us to Glenn Phillips' Lost At Sea 2LP from 1975. After the band dissolved in the early '70s, Phillips jammed around with buddies, working up a repertoire, before deciding to lay tracks to tape and simply release a set of recordings himself. He formed SnowStar Records and released Lost At Sea in a limited fashion mid decade and the ever-curious tastemaker John Peel got on board and began giving it a hiding on his radio show. Stranger things have happened, but this one is curious: Richard Branson became a big fan, flew Phillips over (staying at Mike Oldfield's place!) to the UK and released an edition of the set on Virgin and the rest is history. Lost At Sea was never a commercial big deal in Ol' Blighty, though it had the critics raving and was quite the 'head' disc for avant-rockers and perhaps many waiting around for punk to hit town. Phillips has since released quite a few solo efforts since (even one on SST in 1987, Elevation, when the label was spewing out discs by Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith et al in Ginn's belief that avant-guitar music was where it's at. People laughed, but I think he made some great A & R decisions) and is the guy who perennially winds up in Guitar Player mag as a dude of 'taste', but let's quickly discuss the sounds of Lost At Sea...

Featuring some of his pals from the 'Grease Band days, Lost At Sea has a loose backing group which, particularly when Phillips' guitar is screeching up a storm, is set back a bit in the mix but has a loose-as-a-goose jam-band vibe very much like Live/Dead-period 'Dead with a bit of early '70s Zappa thrown in (Waka/Jawaka/Zoot Allures period), but it really is Phillips' guitar which makes the record. The backing music is exactly that: they're there to showcase him. Such a description may have one thinking that this must be a Satriani-style listening punishment, a total showoff for the main star, but it's not the case. The music provides the dynamics for Phillips to get really outward bound, and there's a ton of that onboard. Parts of this have me thinking of Television or Robert Fripp, which, since I've always held the view that TV basically sound like King Crimson meets the 'Dead (not a bad place to be, so don't think I'm besmirching them), it all comes together perfectly. There are moments when Phillips really scorches, cutting loose in a Pete Cosey/Sonny Sharrock/Henry Kaiser mold, so outre it has me wondering what the hell Sir Branson was thinking, but hey, those were different times.

Lost At Sea, as of the 1st of January 2016, gets my vote as one of the great rediscoveries of the previous 12 months. Housed in a tip-on gatefold sleeve replicating the DIY aesthetics of the original (with a few extra liners on top), the package and the tunes within are hard to beat. Get up with it.


Friday, December 25, 2015

2015, please exit the building

What a year it's been. Not a good one, mind you, but it has been a whole year, mostly of utter pain and misery, but I don't care to dwell on the dark stuff. These past few months, things are definitely looking up, and in 2016, I have plans, I tells ya: PLANS.

In the meantime, there was the year in music. Unlike many years of yore, in 2016 I concentrated on music of the here and now. I wasn't so much interested in years gone by, as at this stage in history I would say that the music being created right NOW is as good, if not better, than that which came before it. And I mean that. In that spirit, here is a listing of my Top 20 Release Of 2016, in no particular order, with an ever-so-brief description of each. Read it. Weep...


BRIAN ELLIS GROUP - Escondido Sessions LP
 Covered here recently. Gonzoid psychedelic jazz fusion from this Californian and his band. In the realm of Sun Ra meets Soft Machine or thereabouts. That means it's good.

MY DISCO - Severe LP/CD
First album in 5 years from these local yokels. I saw them a number of times in their early days and dismissed them as Albini copyists. They were. But they've obviously found themselves in the interim period, as this is a beautifully stark, abstract 'rock' album, musically tipping the hat to the likes of Flowers Of Romance-era PiL and This Heat, but inhabiting its own world. Excellent.

THE HIEROPHANTS - Parallax Error LP
More local yokels. Geelong/Melbourne folk. Links to Ausmuteants and many others. Devo worship meets Aussie garage punk. That's what it is. It's great, and often a whole lot better.

POWER - Electric Glitter Boogie LP
Debut LP from this much-talked-about loved/loathed trio, and again, they're locals. I've tried to ignore the hype and simply enjoy the album for what it is, which is balls-out boogie-punk indebted to the Coloured Balls and early X. Great songs, nice package, and the angular, Ginn-like guitar workouts obviously win my approval.

JIM O'ROURKE - Simple Songs LP/CD
Again, covered here semi-recently. Egghead yacht-rock. This moved my heart and loins.

PRIMITIVE MOTION - Pulsating Time Fibre LP
Brisbane duo on the Bedroom Suck label. Somewhere twixt Cluster, Silver Apples and a no-fi version of Stereolab reside Primitive  Motion. Many short songs on the first side; few long songs on the flip. Both sides work.

FUZZ - II 2LP/CD
The second - duh - effort from this 'power trio' (I could hardly call them anything else) featuring the prolific (but rather good, I might add) Ty Segall on drums. Fuzz opt for a basic Blue Cheer/Black Sabbath realm of possibilities and add a little early Mudhoney-style grunge to the proceedings, which means they're not rewriting the songbook of rock as we know it, but it doesn't always require a redraft. This achieves what it aims for and everyone goes home happy.

TOTALLY MILD - Down Time LP/CD
Melbourne-based - my, so much hometown pride! - quartet, again on the Bedroom Suck label, who delve into a kind of featherweight, floating indie-rock with a Twin Peaks sheen. It's actually better than that.

THE NECKS - Vertigo LP/CD
Latest and not the greatest from Australia's finest, which by no means is meant to imply it's a weak release. For myself it's the best album they've done since Silverwater, which means something or other.

WAND - 1,000 Days LP/CD
The latest and the greatest from LA's Wand. They've got a few albums out on the In The Red and God? labels; this one is on Drag City and is most definitely one of my faves of the year. They have associations with Ty Segall (I think members of his band are in it, but I could be wrong. You Google it - I couldn't be bothered). What is important is that Wand crank out an ace brew of psychedelic/glam/acid-folk PUNK ROCK which has me thinking of Teen Babes-era Redd Kross through a cosmic Syd Barrett looking glass. Nothing to sneeze at, so don't. It's fucking magnificent.
 
WEATHER STATION - Loyalty LP/CD
Canadian folk-rock. Yes, Canadian folk-rock. I covered this recently. It just gets better and better.

JAMES ELKINGTON & NATHAN SALSBURG - Ambsace LP/CD
Another one on the Paradise Of Bachelors label, also responsible for the releases above and below, which I guess makes it Label Of The Year. Duel guitar picking. There's obviously a Fahey influence, but the sounds they create add up to a whole lot more than that. Sublime, beautiful, worthy of repeated spins. Even the Smiths cover doesn't churn my stomach.

PROMISED LAND SOUND - For Use And Delight LP/CD
Byrds/Dead worship. Special guest: Steve Gunn. 'Americana' which again doesn't make me want to vomit in my mouth. Uncut probably loves it. Doesn't mean you can't.

VHOL - Deeper Than Sky CD
 Demonic space-metal from San Francisco on the Profound Lore label. Discharge meets Voivod.

ROYAL HEADACHE - High LP/CD
Second album from Sydney's most likely - as for what they're most likely to do (possibly implode), you may have to ask them. Ultra-melodic soul-review garage punk with none of the 'Hey now, can I get a witness!' cliches. So, so good. The Kids are right.

JONAS MUNK - Absorb/Fabric/Cascade LP
Causa Sui's Jonas Munk - he and the label he co-runs, El Paraiso - was covered here recently. Electronic kraut dementia, repetitive grooves, cosmic soul.

DICK DIVER - Melbourne, Florida LP/CD
Third victorious release from 'Melbourne's own' Dick Diver. The Go-Betweens don't thrill me much, although many of their contemporary admirers do.

UNCLE ACID - Night Creeper 2LP/CD
Previously or otherwise known as Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. English doom crew on the Rise Above label who emit a melodic brand of Sabbath-infused rock which possesses a certain Satanic aura but still enough upbeat tempos and catchy riffs to make me want to 'party'. Good-time rock 'n' roll.

SAMMAL - Myrskyvaroitus LP/CD
Contemporary psych/prog from Finland. They chew up a slew of their homeland's music from yesteryear - perhaps in the same manner as Sweden's Dungen - although both bands really don't sound too alike. Sammal don't have the hooks of Dungen, and the Finnish vocals can take a bit of getting used to (no offense to the good people of Finland, but your native tongue can be slightly abrasive on our English-speaking ears), but the music - THE MUSIC - is special. On the excellent Svart label - well worth investigating.

SUNN O))) - Kannon LP/CD
The latest from this doom crew, a band I thought had jumped the horse a number of years ago with that weak Boris collaboration and the underwhelming Monoloiths and Dimensions set which proceeeded it (I have since revisited the latter and found it's much more agreeable than I originally considered it to be). Kannon is an anomaly in Sunn O)))'s catalogue: short and sweet, a 35-minute single LP with three songs. It's the best thing they've done since Black One.

Over. Out.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

There's a towering pile of CDs next to my stereo - hell yeah, I still play 'em - and here's me grabbing half a dozen of them and making sense of them in as brief a manner as I can. Just for you.


1976 album from ex-Oregon and future Codona sitar player (sitarist?), Colin Walcott. He's a bald guy with frizzy hair on the side who kinda looked like a young Larry David - not a beatnik ethno-jazz world-beater in the looks dept. - but he was part and parcel of a few choice sides in his time. Oregon generally bore me - and I have actually given most of their allegedly 'good' early rekkids a spin - though as I have documented here before in heavy verbiage, the three records he recorded as part of the trio Codona on the ECM label ca. 1978 - '82 still stand as my fave recordings on the label. And if you know me, you'll possibly also be aware of the fact that I possess a tragically near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the label (I was actually its 'manager' down here for a number of years) and hold it in high esteem. So what's Cloud Dance? It's Walcott's first 'solo' album, originally released in 1976 - although of course it is merely him as leader playing in a quartet. A fine record it be, too, otherwise it wouldn't be sittin' pretty next to the player waiting for a semi-regular spin.
 As you can see from the cover, he has some ace players up his sleeve to help him out: Holland on bass, DeJohnette on percussion and Abercrombie on guitar. Were I to describe as it 'ethno-fusion', you may be tempted to vomit in your mouth, so let's just keep it tasteful, huh? It's loose, it's free-flowing, but I won't call it 'jazz', since it does not resemble it to these tin ears. It's a quartet of white westerners playing 'world music' very well. Even cosmically, you might say. '70s 'head music' from an unlikely source.


Should you require something stupidly heavily, or something simply heavily stupid, there's always Scorn's debut player from 1992, Vae Solis. At this juncture, Scorn was two ex-Napalm Death players: moustachio'd skinsman, Mick Harris and Nic Bullen, who had sung for Napalm Death in their early days and indeed yelled on the first side of their debut, Scum. Actually, this lineup is the same as the A side of Scum (it was apparently recorded as a duo), but Scorn and Vae Solis are a different beast. I never went nuts for the early Earache stable of noise back in the day - though I will admit to liking the first couple of Napalm and Carcass discs, Godflesh's Streetcleaner and this album in question - but as I creak into the depths of middle-aged patheticness, I will confess to an increasing fondness for what the label did back in its early days before it all turned to shit (and turned to shit it has - the label has been an utter embarrassment for nigh on two decades now). Lately it's been Cathedral's debut and Morbid Angel's first few Satan-fuelled stabs at recorded glory. In my weaker moments, I crank up a bit of Bolt Thrower. Next week it could be Nocturnus or Confessor: let's just see where the day takes us, huh? Back to Scorn... after a couple of discs, Bullen left the duo, making it a solo project for Harris. There's some great albums in this phase of the band, too (try Ellipsis and especially Gyral), though the sound is much more in a wordless, minimal ambient dub vein. For Vae Solis, it's all about HEAVY, which means this sounds like a more organic version of Godflesh, or perhaps a more 'rock' version of Cop-era Swans, and harks back to a time when you could name songs such as 'Suck And Eat You', 'Eat Forever Dog', 'Heavy Blood' and 'Scum After Death' and keep a straight face. Whatever. There's monumental riffage here, cranking rhythms and moments of PiL-like dub thrown in the mix. Don't call it 'industrial metal' coz I mostly hate that shit, and I don't hate this.


I bought this recently at a Salvo's for $2, as well as volume 2 for an extra $2. That's $4 in total for two double CDs which are out of print and actually kind of coveted amongst some electro-jerks, but regardless, I bought these on a cheapskate whim and a whiff of nostalgia for days gone by. I was working at Missing Link when the first Clicks + Cuts 2CD came out - it was all about CDs back then, ya know, so don't claim otherwise - and it was, relatively speaking, a hot item. Not sales-wise so much, but the Mille Plateaux label was a hot ticket in the '90s up until its dissolution in 2004, the kind of label gormless Wire-reading types would jerk off over, and while I never flipped a lid (or did other deeds) over its wares, I was well aware of its activities and liked some of what it did. And since it's 2015 and a mere $4 will buy me about 300 minutes of compiled music from the MP stable (and some of it not), I took a trip down memory lane. Vol. 1 has all those party-starter names you remember - snd, Pan Sonic, Pole, Vladislav Delay, Alva Noto et al - and some you probably don't. What it is is a top-notch comp' of experimental electronica of varied stripes: glitchtronica, minimal dub, avant-techtronica and other terms I really do promise to never utter again. When not 'rocking', Clicks + Cuts remains a great musical antidote. Should you come across any volume in a junk shop near you, do not hesitate.


One of my favourite releases of 2015, and yes, IT'S A CANADIAN FOLK-ROCK ALBUM! Pick yourself up off the ground and listen. Weather Station is essentially Canadian singer-songwriter, Tamara Linderman, and Loyalty is her/their third album and the first to be released on what is one of my fave currently operating imprints, Paradise Of Bachelors (they're also responsible for three other killers in '15: Nathan Salsburg and James Elkington's Ambsace [Faheyesque guitar duets]), Promised Land Sound's For Use And Delight [total 'Dead/Byrds worship] and the reissue of Kenny Knight's amazing Crossroads LP from 1980). POB deal in what is essentially 'Americana' (or Canadiana, if you will), but without the vom-inducing baggage I usually associate with the genre (ie. - it's not just dickheads in cowboy shirts trying to be Ryan Adams or Jeff Tweedy); the fact is - their hit rate is right up there, a small but feasible catalogue which is all good. Back to Weather Station... the closest reference one could bring up is Joni Mitchell. Everyone brings up Mitchell, and it's not just because she also happens to be a Canadian folky/singer/songwriter, but because Linderman sounds a whole lot like her (taking the key down a pitch or two, however) and indeed writes songs like her, a fingerpicking, free-flowing approach. Which to me is nothing to sneeze nor laugh at (I came around - heavily - to the JN stratosphere a number of years back. Suck on that one). Again, none of this babble amounts to a hill of shinola if Weather Station didn't have the songs, and that they do in abundance. All 11 songs presents move my heart and loins in a way few other releases this year have. The 1-2-3 bang of the first three cuts, 'Way It Is, Way It Could Be, 'Loyalty' and 'Floodplain' is a thing of great beauty. Linderman sings with great conviction, the proceedings never get corny or overcooked and the whole thing slaps together like a statement worth being partial to. My first few listens of Loyalty evoked a lukewarm response, but after a friend insisted that I proceed with further immersion, I persisted. And I'm glad I did - it is one of 2015's finest recordings, one which soothed my aching brain on many occasions this past year.



The Franco Battiato story has been told voluminous times before, and by people far more qualified to tell it than I. He remains a huge figure in Italian music and straightened his approach considerably in the 1980s to gain widespread fame and fortune in his homeland (which isn't to say that said music isn't without its considerable charm and interest, both musically and lyrically), though his 1970s output remains one of the most fascinating and flat-out brilliant catalogues of music of its (or any) era. Italy's contribution to the post-psychedelic universe is well known (well, perhaps to obsessive nutcases such as you and I), but Battiato's 1970s output is a one-of-a-kind obsessive, philosophical
journey which encompasses existentialism, radical politics, musique concret, experimental prog, ambient and singer-songwriter tales into a whole which beggars categorisation. His Fetus and Pollution LPs were reissued onto CD by the Water label a decade or more ago, and once a year I pay them a visit. Right now is that time. His other '70s LPs are up on Spotify, for those who care to stream (and Sulle corde di Aries and Clic must also be heard), though these two probably remain his finest combinations of the accessible and the inexplicable: psychedelic keyboards, sound collages, kosmiche grooves and honest-to-God songs - they are the mark of a genius, some of the most forward-thinking music ever laid to tape. It's 40+ years later and most are still left in their collective dust.


Bought this for ONE WHOLE DOLLAR at a primary school fete a couple of weeks ago. Throw in an Astor Piazzolla CD, too, and that's a whopping TWO DOLLARS extracted from my pocket. Such is the seeming worth of music in this day and age. Sweet Oblivion was originally released in 1992 and was the band's first major label effort, let loose upon the world just as 'grunge' was taking the western world by storm and soon embarrassing all and sundry. Soon it would all be about Candlebox and Bush, but Screaming Trees had deep roots in the undie-ground and, so far as I can see it, never managed to make fools of themselves in the process. I never flipped out over the band in any manner whatsoever. I liked their 'Nearly Lost You' single a lot (still do - a lot), but when grunge came to town, I was elsewhere and paid it no mind. But for 100 cents, I will take the plunge, and 23 years later, when the dust has settled and I've calmed down, settled into middle age and forgiven all and sundry for their musical crimes in the 1990s, Sweet Oblivion makes for an exceedingly pleasant listen and then some. I've never swallowed the legend of myth of Mark Lanegan as many have done (a decent number of my compadres swear by his solo output, though they leave my non-plussed), and nor was I even that hot on the band's SST recordings (minus their Other Worlds EP from 1985, which is fantastic), but Sweet Oblivion has that BIG GRUNGE-ROCK SOUND with BIG MELODIES, SOARING VOCALS and GIANT HOOKS which doesn't remind me of Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins, and thus gets them off the hook. This is good car-driving music for Dave The Dad - songs such as the opener, 'Shadow Of The Season' and 'Butterfly', has one punching the air, whilst a ballad such as 'Dollar Bill' has one nearly weeping, wondering why the fuck one is driving around in a car listening to the Screaming Trees in 2015 - but it all sounds good and right when one isn't up for a musical challenge. Sweet Oblivion is fine rock & roll, and that's the end of the story. Over. Out.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

BUZZCOCKS/MAGAZINE

I fell over this YouTube clip yesterday, and it impressed me greatly. It's more than a mere clip, it's a two-part documentary on the Buzzcocks and Magazine totalling 40 minutes of your time, and worthy of your time it is. I posted a little while ago here a brief, and possibly lame, appraisal of the early works of Magazine, and my affection for the band - primarily their first three LPs: Real Life, Secondhand Daylight and The Correct Use Of Soap - increases as time goes by. They were a very peculiar beast of a band, but of course, Howard Devoto is a rather peculiar fellow. He sabotaged his own possible career as a 'punk icon' just as the Buzzcocks were taking off, claiming the 'movement' had become a cliche and he wished to move on (a truism, but still no reason to quit the band, so far as I can see it, especially since the Buzzcocks were most definitely one of the smarter/better/best practioners of the genre, but I digress...). There's a telling interview within the documentary, in which he notes that it's a basic part of his personality: sabotaging expectations.

 Regardless, this mini-feature was made/narrated by Tony Wilson for the Granada TV show, What Goes On (the first televisual show to give the Sex Pistols some air) in the UK, and he was certainly one of the smarter and more atuned television presenters of his or any time, but that's obvious. There's been a lot of mythologising regarding Tony Wilson and Factory Records the past two decades, but his accomplishments and what he brought to British life during the punk/post-punk era cannot be taken away from him. This documentary shows him as an informed and informative man, and it really does the chart the respective careers of the Buzzcocks and Magazine circa 1978 in an intelligent and interesting manner which never insults the intelligence of the viewer. The fact is this: you'd be hard pressed to find a documentary on two excellent bands as good as this on any television show ever.

It's interesting to note the difference between the two bands: the Buzzcocks stuck to a formula pretty tightly - admittedly it's a genre they pioneered - one of high-energy punk rock brandished with pop melodies, while Magazine went for texture, drama and more mixed tempos, mixing punk aggression with a heavy dose of '70s Eno and Berlin-period Bowie. The Buzzcocks kept it simple; Magzine didn't. In fact, the latter were downright musicianly, with dunderheads like journalist Gary Bushell writing them off as prog-rockers. That said, this clip of the band demonstrates their sense of musical grandeur quite perfectly, and if your idea of punk rock in 1978 was Sham 69 and their acolytes, then the sight of Magazine with their multi-keyboard set-up and mounted roto-toms on the drum kit may indeed been a thing of great horror.

The fact remains, however, that both bands excelled, and the Buzzcocks, similarly, made three LPs to stake your life on: Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites and A Different Kind Of Tension - the kind of consistent longplay action which left many of their contemporaries in the dust. Both Pete Shelley and Devoto are captivating figures in '70s avant-punk; Shelley, for instance, recorded an experimental electronic album way back in 1974 (released in 1980 on his Groovy Records label), and you can hear some of it here. Both men were pioneers, so pay some goddamn respect.
Anyway, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy. It's worth it...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

SIMPLE SONGS


Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs LP/CD on the Drag City label has somehow turned into one of my favourite recordings of 2015. I have never claimed fandom for the O'Rourke cause, but then again, nor have I dragged his name through the mud. I have admired his work from afar, yet never taken his music close to my heart. His series of solo albums he released on Drag City many moons ago floated within my orbit at the time, and yes, I heard them all a number of times. The memories are pleasant, but they remain memories. I procured myself a promotional copy of this LP mid-year when I was in a deep funk - as indeed I had been in a deep funk all year. And that's not the kind of funk you can dance to. The worst of it is over now, but as it can be on such occasions: music was a great friend and provided some solace. This album hit me hard at the right time. Recorded in Japan with local musicians - the land where O'Rourke resides - it has a beautiful sense of isolation and despair. It's a lonely middle-aged man's recording, by and for. I like to refer to it as egghead yacht-rock. Musically it's very much in a '70s singer-songwriter vein: some Randy Newman, a dab of Jackson Browne, some of his beloved Van Dyke Parks in the strings and orchestration, Spector-period Dion, the musicianly dynamics of primo Steely Dan, and you could possibly throw in a dozen or so obscure/underloved/failures from the period whom O'Rourke rates highly but just have me scratching my head (I read a recent O'Rourke piece where he was spruiking the works of Rupert Holmes...). Simple Songs only has 8 songs, but they flesh out to make a wondrous whole. For a 'musical journeyman' (sorry...) w/ many a notch in his belt, it strikes me as a statement. It won't set the world on fire nor get the kids dancing, but for me right now it feels right.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

EL PARAISO



 I do love a label with a strong sense of graphic design, one where the releases feel like chapters in a book, telling a story with the music and associated visuals. There are obvious examples - ECM and Blue Note certainly spring to mind - as well as Tzadik and the Rune Grammofon label from Norway, although I feel that their releases starting flying way off the mark musically roughly half a decade ago. One such label, which I've only very recently become aware of, is the El Paraiso imprint from Denmark.


Owned and operated by musicians Jakob Skott and Jonas Munk, both of whom have solo LPs on the label and who are both members of the band Causa Sui, it's got a small but estimable catalogue of artists (all seemingly friends or inter-related through bands) who cut a wide musical path - stoner rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, electronica - but all seem to be headed in the same vague direction of, dare I say, transcendent sounds. Headline act, Causa Sui, a four-piece rock outfit, often get lumped within the 'stoner rock' scene, although the music they create is often more eclectic and engaging than most acts I associate w/ the genre. Sure, there are recycled/regenerated '70s 'Sabbath riffs a-plenty, but the music, which includes kosmiche keyboards and sometimes sax, also lends an air of Soft Machine before they went off the rails, or the dynamic complexities and riff-making of early Mahavishnu. Apparently mostly improvised, they can make long song engaging, and the shorter ones sharp and to the point. You might want to try their Pewt'r Sessions or Summer Sessions series: they make for epic, enjoyable slogs, and the guitar/keyboard textures - did I mention that they are purely instrumental? - put them in the vein of Ten East and Yawning Man (two bands I plundered money and time into many moons ago), and while I'm on a roll, I'll throw this in: had they hailed from the US of A in the late '80s, they woulda fitted like a goddamn glove in the SST regime of the day.


Jonas Munk's Pan LP from 2012 is one to investigate. Guitars are mostly forsaken for driving electronics. There are obvious precedents for the sounds within: Manuel Gottsching, maybe even some of Steve Hillage's recordings. The interplay between the mechanical electronics and the fluid, organic guitar playing is what makes it work. It doesn't rewrite the songbook of 21st century music as we know it, but one demanding as such is asking for too much. Jakob Skott's solo ventures are also something to investigate, and there's two of them: Amor Fati and Taurus Rising, both of which display a heavy kraut damage on their sound, although they aim for a percussive, rhythmic bent and eschew ambience, for the most part. We're talking morotik beats occassionally interrupted by outbreaks of bombast, and they are records I will put my name to.


The Brian Ellis Group's Escondido Sessions LP was released quite recently, and is my pick of the bunch. And again, it goes to show that El Paraiso doesn't necessarily follow a given musical formula. Ellis is a Californian whose musical CV involves various psych-jam outfits, although his quartet takes its influences from the music of '70s Miles Davis and the early (and crucial) Tony Williams Lifetime recordings, which means that this disc is white-hot and not merely a regurgitation of Ellis' record collection. There's four exploratory jams here which meld the sounds of Miles, Williams, pre-vom Zappa and Soft Machine w/ Wyatt in tow (before they also crawled up their own backsides), which may spell prog-fusion to you, but to moi spells fun times. And indeed it is. The cover perfectly apes the sounds you may expect: it looks like a Limey jazz-rock album from the early '70s, or some obscuro fusion disc from a time before the genre blew, and that's what it sounds like, too. One of my fave discs of '15. Ellis has also recently released a a duo guitar recording with Brian Grainger, a quieter affair which sees them delving into a Brit-folk realm (think of Jansch/Renbourn, of course) on the El Paraiso imprint - At Dusk be its name - and it's also worth the time and trouble.


Oh, there's also the Danish collective known as Shiggajon, whose Sela LP floats my boat in serious ways. They claim influence from the likes of Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and I'd say there's a heavy tip to the former there (esp. his early '70s Swedish gonzo period), and while they don't reach the spiritual plains of either (who possibly could?), possibly due to the whiteness of its sound (sorry, but it's true), there's an improv/hippie vibe here I dig a lot. I'd put 'em more in the bracket of The Necks or the communal-jam vibe of Amon Duul more than the spiritual jazz aura to which they aspire, but that's an OK place to be, too. Ya dig?

All of these albums can be sampled at the El Paraiso web site, and for the record: I am not on a retainer from the label. I simply share because I care. I have but scraped the top of the barrel here. There is more to investigate under the EP roof - these are simply the highlights. This is great music in the here and now. Over, out.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

THE STAINS

Sometimes even the greatest marketplace failures enjoy a second life. The sole LP from LA's Stains, released on the SST label, has never fully enjoyed the life of a full revival and reappraisal, but it should. Some label such as, say, Superior Viaduct or Southern Lord (who have done a good job w/ Bl'ast!'s catalogue) should get on the case, but then again, you'd have the iron will and ninja legal team of Greg Ginn to contend with, and one would probably get nowhere fast.

The band's roots go all the way back to 1976, though the one album they recorded - all 21 minutes of it - didn't see release until 1983, two years after it was recorded. Look up any old LA flyer ca. 1980 - '83 and you'll undoubtedly see their name pop up. They played w/ all the greats and not-so-greats, and from all reports were a scorching live act. Circa 1983, SST was getting all 'heavy', digging into the worlds of '70s hard rock and metal with the likes of Overkill (their debut 7" from '82 is actually pretty straight 'punk', though once Merrill Ward took over on vocals they became worshippers at the altar of Lemmy), Wurm (Dukowski's pre- and then post-Black Flag outfit, who released a great 7" and equally great LP which deserve reappraisal [and reissue]), Saint Vitus and Black Flag themselves. SST made kind of a deal of the Stains' 'proto-crossover' fury and the metal angle, though to my ears it does them a disservice, nor does it accurately describe their music. I guess, for one, when I think 'crossover' I think hardcore mixed with speed/thrash metal with flashy riffs and double-kick drums (and I hated that shit), and the Stains didn't partake in such shenanigans. One spin below and you'll hear and rough and ready LA PUNK w/ some hot leads straight out of the Ginn handbook. Actually, the influence between guitarists Robert Becerra and Ginn went both ways.

Whatever. The album didn't set the world afire, and I remember seeing a secondhand copy of it for a ha'penny back in the late '80s - when I was knee-deep in my teen SST fixation - and I didn't buy the fucking thing! I think I suspected that it would be second-rate clobber of the SWA/DC3 variety and passed it up for an Always August 12" or something. Now it'll set you back a hundreds bucks or two, its reputation grown beyond the obvious. Wrangling rights out of the House Of Ginn to reissue such a thing, I imagine, would be more trouble than it's worth. You may just have to enjoy the Youtube link below for now.