Follow by Email

Monday, 24 December 2012

Alexander Spence – All My Life (I Love You) / Land of the Sun (1999)

Out of all the 1960s lost souls Alexander Spence was one of the most far-gone. What a pity the acid was so strong back then; fragile guys like Spence just didn’t stand a chance trying to keep it together. Never heard of him? Well the cliché is that Spence was the U.S answer to Syd Barrett, which is shorthand for wayward genius cut short by drugs and mental illness.

Like Syd, Spence had loads of talent and started out drumming for Jefferson Airplane on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). He left to join Moby Grape as a guitarist and contributed strongly to their mega debut album – Moby Grape (1967), most notably with the song Omaha, which is one the greatest guitar oriented songs ever. Unfortunately Spence was later sectioned after attacking one his band-mates at a hotel with a fire axe. He never fully recovered, but before he started to fadeout he recorded his one and only solo album – Oar (1969) on a three track.* On Oar Spence played every instrument himself and totally manifested the sound of mental confusion with flair and charm. The album is justly regarded as an obscure cult classic and is well worth checking out.

This beautifully packaged and pressed single features two rare works from Spence post Oar. I haven’t found any meaningful information about All My Life except that it was recorded in 1972 in San Mateo, California. It has a great crunchy riff and vocals that are very different to the way he sung on Oar. Perhaps Moby Grape recorded it in 1972 with (or without) Spence? Do any Moby Grape freaks know?

Land of the Sun is a totally different proposition. I still remember the first time I heard this seriously creepy song – I was amazed at how well it encapsulates nameless dread. Listen to it really loud and it will totally weird you out. Known as the last Spence recording, it was made for an X-Files soundtrack, but didn’t end up on the subsequent album. The song was recorded in 1996 and Spence died in 1999. I guess that the excellent reissue label Sundazed released it in 1999 to mark his passing and give the song a chance to freak people out (it is still readily available). I’m going to play it again, just in time for Christmas.

* Legend has it that when Spence was let out of the psychiatric ward in New York he rode a motorcycle non stop dressed only in his pajamas to a Nashville studio to begin recording the album. An apocryphal tale no doubt, but I like to believe that it is true.

Skip Spence - man he had great hair!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012)

It’s already that time of year when critics begin to list the best albums of the year. The NME has just published its list of top fifty albums on its website and I was pleased to find that they have placed Perth band Tame Impala at number one for their album Lonerism. Whether the NME is relevant these days or not doesn’t matter, what counts is that the accolade is deserved. No doubt the album will be towards the top of most magazines best of lists, oh and perhaps Pitchfork as well, maybe they’ll give it a 9.2 or something.

Lonerism is a superb blast of deep psychedelia. If their debut – Innerspeaker, sounds like the inflation of the universe, then Lonerism is the equivalent of white light passing through a prism, revealing itself as a rainbow of colours (such cosmic clichés are necessary when it comes to Tame Impala, just to keep up the established tradition).

Lonerism has been reviewed to the nth degree since its release a few months ago, so I will not bother to add to the collection. All I can say is that like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tame Impala take old musical tropes and make them sound new again. But really it’s lazy and inaccurate to think of them as being retro. They are making a kind of psychedelic music, but it’s more rooted in the tradition of The Flaming Lips, rather than any late 60’s band.Comparisons are a moot point though, because Tame Impala have minted their own sound and have backed it up with superb songwriting.

Tame Impala’s music is made for vinyl, with its deeply layered arrangements and a guitar sound that’s like fairy-floss being melted and stretched. The production is warm and full and although many of the instruments sound heavily treated, it’s not an over-produced album. It demands multiple listens to really appreciate its quality, so get out and buy a pressing and give it a spin. If you get the vinyl version you can also check out more easily what all those people are doing on the cover, which looks like it was shot in France. The back cover looks like Kevin Parker’s bedroom in Perth, where he single-handedly recorded much of the album. Looks like he had fun.

Also check out just why my hometown scene is worthy of attention and why Pond is right up there with Tame Impala. Then have a look at some of the highlights from Lonerism on Youtube, not as good as vinyl, but you’ll have to sort that out for yourself: It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, Elephant, Why Won’t They Talk To Me? and Apocalypse Dreams.

I get to see them live for the first time in ages on December 15 in Fremantle – lucky me!

Sometimes the band had to line up for the back stage toilet

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mental As Anything – Get Wet (1979)

The late 1970’s and early 1980’s was a great time in music, with punk, post-punk, electronica and new wave all throwing up great bands in Europe and America. It was during this period that Australian music really came of age. In this period Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, The Models and The Church all emerged and either went on to bigger things or became influential cult bands.

Mental as Anything were a band that didn’t quite fit into an easy category. They weren’t a cool hipster band like The Bad Seeds or The Church, nor were they punk and even when they became a commercial proposition in the early 1980’s they weren’t anything like INXS or the other big Australian bands of the time. What they were was an eccentric bunch of art students who didn’t take themselves too seriously and had more in common with the great Flying Nun bands of New Zealand, even though they effortlessly celebrated the essence of Australian culture at the time. 

The band also sported four singers and songwriters – Reg Mombassa, Greedy Smith, Martin Plaza and Peter O’Doherty. At this stage Martin Plaza dominated in terms of songwriting and singing. His rich voice meant that he was the most natural front-man of the bunch and he came up with one of their greatest songs in the classic opener The Nips are Getting Bigger. This song is the best summation of what they were about with a classic bass line, subtle 60’s fuzzy guitars and the lamentations and joy of post breakup drunkenness.

Most of side one scores, with Mombassa’s Business and Pleasure and Plaza’s Possible Theme for a Future TV Drama Series being flippant highlights. The former song is one of the best tunes about band life and being hassled by the manager. The latter has great throwaway lyrics – “All you TV producers looking for a catchy theme, here’s one that’s gonna make you cream.” It’s as catchy as all fuck. Talk to Baby Jesus is the music Elvis would have made if he had of grown up in Sydney and became wacky rather than cool. Egypt finishes side one and achieves beautiful escapism with a guitar chug that could have been played on a front porch in the height of summer.

Detail of water wasting rear sleeve

Side two isn’t as strong but it’s still a lot of fun. Can I Come Home is all 50’s stylings with a great shaggy guitar solo. Fringe Benefits claims that they are ”So broke, it’s no joke, can’t even afford a beer.” Love is not a Gift laments lost friendship between two Aussie blokes with a tasty riff. The other tracks are slight but get away with it due to their charm, innocence and a few meaty guitar riffs.

The thing about Mental As Anything is that they perfectly encapsulate the Australia of hot summers, beer gardens, BBQs, beer swilling, sunburn and girls in bikinis. The back cover is a classic pop art image of a sprinkler wasting tons of water on Australia’s most useless crop – grass (no, not that kind, they were hand watered…). This is suburban Australia, not the louche inner city Australia of The Bad Seeds. Mental As Anything should be taught in anthropology at university as exemplars of Australian suburban mysticism.  I’ve had this album for literally decades and have hardly ever listened to it. I didn’t buy any of their other albums in the 1980’s and 1990’s – they were too uncool for me, but now I realize that the joke was on me.

Mental as Anything - this is how they travelled from gig to gig

Monday, 29 October 2012

The White Stripes – Hand Springs 7 inch single (2012)

What’s this – a new single from The White Stripes? Not quite, apart from the obvious hurdle of the band not being an ongoing concern, but also that both of these tracks have been released elsewhere. I spied this single at Dada Records and grabbed it straight away. Rob, the bearded man behind the desk didn’t even know what it really was. Seems he forgot that it’s actually a record store day release, probably due to the fact that they arrived so late at his shop. Both songs are curios from around the year 2000. I missed out on the red vinyl version though – can’t win them all.

Hand Springs was part of a split single with a band called Dirtbombs and it’s pretty shit hot – play it really loud. A rockin’ three-chord riff is interrupted by spoken word sections telling the story of the protagonist losing his girl to another man at the bowling alley.

Red Death at 6.14 is a macabre novelty tune with Meg singing la la las in her slightly wonky voice – very cute. It sports a thunderous riff and typical raw lead work from White. Amongst the analogue hiss are great lyrics like “She must be dead if the only sounds I hear are the devils by her bed.” It’s literally a blast.

Hand Springs was originally only available on 2000 copies of the split single issued with a pinball magazine called Multiball. It’s also cropped up on a compilation album called Hot Pinball Rock, Vol. 1 and on some CD copies of White Blood Cells. Red Death at 6:14 is rarer, only featuring on the album Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit and as a Mojo Magazine give-away in 2002.

Now you can hold both in your hot little hand for about $10 dollars and be reminded why The White Stripes were the best rock band during the 2000’s. Let’s face it, the string of albums they released were genius, including the sometimes-maligned album Get Behind Me Satan from 2005. Just last week a friend of mine told me that it was his favourite Stripes album because it flaunted convention and shoved it in the face of hipsters. Do hipsters deserve that? Maybe….

Will we ever see this again?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Lookout Farm – Dave Liebman (1974)

Do you like Jazz? Or to be more precise – what kind of jazz do you like? Jazz shares something in common with dance music - it consists of a multitude of sub-genres, all of which can be validly called jazz, no matter how dissimilar they seem to each other. Try telling that to the young American jazz musicians collectively labeled as ‘The Young Lions,’ who emerged in the early 1980’s and were spearheaded by trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. These jazz musicians embraced acoustic jazz forms from the past, such as New Orleans Jazz, Be-Bop, Post-Bop and Modal Jazz. To them these sub-genres are jazz, not the fusion and jazz-rock of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. In the 1980’s the ethos of ‘The Young Lions’ took hold in the U.S. and jazz went back to the future.

What does this have to do with Dave Liebman’s Lookout Farm? Well, everything actually. The jazz played on this album and the European jazz label that released it – ECM, are significant parts of the story of jazz that didn’t play to the rules laid down by ‘The Young Lions.’ In the book Is Jazz Dead, Or Has it Moved to a Different Address? (2005), author Stuart Nicholson argues that the traditionalist scene in the USA has left jazz moribund and that the real creative story of modern jazz can be found elsewhere, particularly in Europe on labels such as ECM.

ECM is an excellent jazz label that was founded in 1969 and has been the home of jazz musicians who willingly stretch the boundaries of the idiom. If you want your jazz to have experimental qualities, yet to still be quite listenable, then ECM is the label for you. ECM has a coherent identity, much like 4AD and Mute, which is almost a guarantee of a certain level of quality.

Lookout Farm is a sublime jazz-fusion album and is indicative of a typical ECM release. Side A kicks off with Pablo’s Story – a Latin influenced track that begins with classical guitar, then flute and electric guitar together with cowbells. It’s poised and beautiful and then it becomes an up-tempo workout with saxophones and congas taking it on a wild ride. A portion of this fourteen-minute track can be listened to here.

Sam’s Float initially sounds mysterious, with a bass line leading into flute trills whilst a female voice wails – it’s like a brief adventure into the ether. Side B is one twenty-four minute track called M.D/Lookout Farm. It begins with acoustic piano followed by plaintive tenor saxophone and as the track develops it is atmospheric and sometimes quite abstract. There’s everything happening in this track – you can call it a jam, but it is coherent and tightly played. Towards the end there is a great percussive section with tablas and congas before a saxophone led freak-out warps time over never-ending elastic minutes. This music is as good as anything Weather Report produced in the early 1970s, and that’s really saying something. It’s a pity that no one has put it up on You-tube.

Dave Liebman played in Elvin Jones’ band after John Coltrane died in 1967 and then was hired by Mile Davis, playing with the master between 1970 – 74, the period in which this great record was recorded. Lookout Farm displays similar qualities to Miles Davis’ work during that period, being both adventurous and avant-garde, but also very listenable. The sessions took place in October 1973 and features Liebman on flute and soprano and tenor saxes. The other principle musicians are Richard Beirach, Frank Tusa and Jeff Williams. If you are thinking something along the lines of who the hell are these guys? – then I don’t blame you, but perhaps it is time they were more recognized for the great music they played on this relatively obscure classic.

Dave Liebman in the early 1970's

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I Come From Another Planet, Baby: 7 inch single - Julian Cope (1996)

Julian Cope is one of the great freaks of rock music. Part visionary, part crackpot, part genius, part intellectual and part mystic – Cope is a true cult artist. It wasn’t always the case though. Emerging from Liverpool’s punk/post-punk scene in the late 1970’s, he became a rock star with his band The Teardrop Explodes. They blended punk attitude with The Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Love (you can throw The Doors in there as well, Cope even wore leather trousers). An awesome band – but they imploded in the early 1980’s and Julian Cope embarked on a totally fascinating, eccentric and entertaining solo career. Cope is someone who is a true eccentric but manages to turn playing with self-parody to his advantage. He gets away with being totally ridiculous and absolutely serious at the same time. If you spend some time in his world you won’t emerge unscathed, and I mean that in a good way.

I Come From Another Planet, Baby was taken from the Interpreter album of the same year, which acted like a kind of kooky space-rock coda to his prior astonishing run of LPs: Peggy Suicide (1991), Jehovahkill (1992), Autogeddon (1994), 20 Mothers (1995) that explored paganism and his own brand of outré mysticism, amongst other obsessions. I Come From Another Planet, Baby is pseudo glam blended with psychedelia and features a pulsing beat with sci-fi keyboard trills as ornaments. Just how much irony can you fit into one song? If you are Julian Cope then the answer is plenty. ”I’m not the man I wanna be,” he laments before the song reaches an intense climax, with Cope singing “another planet” again and again, as if he’s surprised by the fact.

Often with singles the real fun is to be found with the B-sides, and this single is no different. How Do I Understand My Motorman? is a true B-side (even though it’s on the A-side of this single), because it’s obvious why it wasn’t included on the album, but in the context of the single format it can thrive. It starts as a somber minor key keyboard dirge before becoming much more sprightly and in the end naggingly catchy. Cope croons, “How do I know my motor man?” and claims, “We are blind to the sight of everything.” Every time I play this song I find myself singing it to myself for days after, which is not such a bad thing because there are far worse songs that get stuck in the folds of the brain.

The actual B-side of the single is perhaps one of the most intensely way-out songs ever, if you could call it a song at all. When I first heard If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You I was totally blown away. I was, I have to admit, pretty wasted, but there’s no doubt about the outright weirdness of this track. Once I’d heard it for the first time I had to play it again and again. I became obsessed with it and this was when I realized that Cope had become like a drug and he had altered me chemically.

The track begins with electronic thunder-like sounds and pitch-shifted keyboards and then Cope enters and starts talking about “Flipping out at the mother’s jam.” This is the beginning of nearly nine minutes of improvisation as Cope ruminates about buying a vintage keyboard from a nutter who looks like Boris Becker. He states that he has, “ A date with a lusty broad, a date with mother earth!”  He yearns for something called Glambience - surely his own genius invention. He also obsesses about Harry Houdini and asks “So why am I so screwed up?” Monotheism is his answer.

It’s difficult to fully convey the full impact of this track in which all of Cope’s weirdness and his pagan sensibility merge into one. You simply have to hear it and fortunately ‘Maiorov Simpleton’ has done the sensible thing and put it on You Tube. Listen to it here. While you are at it you might as well listen to I Come From Another Planet, Baby here. Why not try out How Do I Understand My Motorman? as well. If you can connect with any of these songs then welcome to Julian Cope – there’s no looking back. 

                                 Searching for 'Glambience'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Early Takes vol. 1 - George Harrison (2012)

I had to buy this as soon as I saw it, not just because I love demos and outtakes, but also because George Harrison wrote songs that were an expression of his inner world, and that makes all the difference. This collection is full of charm and warmth, just what you’d expect from the former Beatle. Early Takes features 10 tracks, all previously unreleased. The liner notes on the rear cover note that these tracks were unearthed during research for Martin Scorsese’s Living in the Material World documentary.

The demo of My Sweet Lord is a hesitant run-through without the propulsive tempo of the finished version, so it comes across as a little dorky. It’s the only track that doesn’t stand up as a demo. Still, it’s worth hearing as an insight into Harrison’s writing and arranging process. Better is Run of the Mill, which is an intimate acoustic version of the All Things Must Pass (1970) track. Many of these demos hail from that album and it’s great to hear them shorn of the full production that album received at the manic hands of Phil Spector.

After the melancholic I’d Have Her Anytime, a Dylan co-write, Harrison asks “Anything you want to change?” - very little it seems. Dylan pops up again with Harrison’s cover of Mama You’ve Been On My Mind. This track is perhaps the best on the album. It’s a beautiful version and Harrison actually sounds like he’s impersonating Dylan.

What sounds like a Jew’s harp graces a short but gorgeous rendition of Woman Don’t You Cry For Me. Unlike the demo version on the Beatles Anthology 3 (1996), the track All Things Must Pass sounds like a full band demo, but it still retains its emotional impact. Let it Be Me is almost perfect, which is something you could say for almost all of these demos. They are more than just sketches.

I’ve listened to this album at least eight times now and haven’t tired of it. These stripped back recordings really suit the warmth of vinyl and I’m grateful that Universal went out their way to get them pressed up. Thoroughly recommended not only if you are a Beatles or Harrison fan, but also if you enjoy music with soul.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Tracks and Traces – Harmonia & Eno (1976)

This release is totally fascinating, absorbing and beautiful. Harmonia, whose members consist of musicians from the legendary Krautrock bands Neu! and Cluster, teamed up with Brian Eno in 1976 and recorded this music; which wouldn’t be released until 1997. Although the music does sound like a true collaboration, you can hear both future and past Eno in these analogue saturated tracks. Eno looks pretty pleased with himself on the cover and I don’t blame him – these Germans were at the forefront of electronic music. Also, not many albums have the members of the band drinking tea on the cover.

This 2009 re-release on vinyl is re-mastered and contains three tracks not found on the original 1997 issue. Side one starts with Welcome, one of the tracks not on the original release. It burbles and washes with keyboards and primitive synthesizers. Vampos Companeros chugs along like a menacing night train that, by the song’s end, sounds like it can’t stop. In contrast By This Riverside is an absorbing epic with beautiful analogue synth tones and rhythmic pulses.

Luneburg Heath is the only track with vocals, beautifully sung by Eno, but despite this I prefer the instrumental aspect of this collaboration. Sometimes in Autumn sounds like music made by a submarine and remixed by a stoned squid – it’s aquatic and definitely squelchy (a reference to Eno’s book of the same name?) Weird Dream is like wandering around in a fog on downers, but not being too worried about it even though you are hearing some strange noises coming from who knows where. The languid and elegiac sounds of Almost reminds you of parts of Eno’s excellent Before and After Science (1977), in particular the keyboards.

Les Demoiselles displays a stately jauntiness and could easily be the soundtrack to parading royalty from pre revolution France. When Shade Was Born and Trace are very short instrumental excursions, with repetitive unfolding keyboard motifs. Very tasteful but they sound like a warm up for grander ideas.

Aubade sounds like it is trying to reign itself in, which in some ways sums up this collaboration. Eno and Harmonia do sound like they were trying to pull each other in different directions, but it works and gives the music an edge despite its ambient textures. For someone who deliberately works behind the scenes, Brian Eno is so well known that it almost seems pointless to champion his musical achievements. If you are new to Eno then this isn’t really the place to start – the same can be said of Harmonia. But anyone who enjoys either artist should seek out this release. It’s a fascinating and obscure part of electronic music’s history. 


Friday, 10 August 2012

David Neil ”The Wilderness Years” – Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi (2011)

The Wilderness Years is Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi’s idea of a joke, and it’s a pretty good joke too. Steve Kilbey apparently joins David Neil - an obscure failed rock star, for a U.S. tour in 1974. Soon after Neil has the “dubious distinction of dying three deaths at once.” The songs on this album are supposedly Neil’s songs that have been resurrected from unfinished tracks and lyric books. Never mind that below the hilarious liner notes it states – all songs: Kilbey/Maymi. For a brief moment at the record store they had me fooled.

So being a huge fan of both The Church (from where Kilbey hails, if you didn’t know) and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Maymi) it was a given that I’d be taking this particular record home. Unsurprisingly this record is a total gem. The songwriting is superb and it really does come across as a combination of their respective bands, although the sound does lean more towards that of The Church. Guitars chime and jangle, Kilbey sings with his bedside baritone and the melodies are superb, but also many of the songs have that slightly ramshackle chug that the BJM do so well.

Of the ten songs Hollywood Ending is an early highlight, with insistent vocals and fast acoustic rhythms giving way to a blissed out reverie and then back again. Walk With Me (note - the song is miss-labelled on this video) follows and it’s a classic. Kilby’s singing is pleading and intimate and the female back up vocals are perfect. The other three tracks on side one are just as enjoyable and are typical of the songwriting consistency displayed by Kilbey over the years.

Side two begins with piano and the blissed-out country guitar stylings of Higher Than Yesterday. The tune has a melancholic feel and as usual with anything Kilbey writes it has quality lyrics. Lowboy is my favourite and it’s catchy as hell. It comes across as a lost Church song and that is the great thing about this LP – it reminds me of the early to mid period Church albums before they got all atmospheric with Priest = Aura (1992). I really hope that Kilbey writes more songs with Maymi, as they obviously bring out the best in each other.

The Equator is a bittersweet lament with a perfect blend of acoustic and electric instruments and a nice backwards guitar interlude. Was There Ever features superb vocal interplay coupled with a minor key shuffle and slide guitar. The album ends with So Long, another classic of bittersweet understatement.

If you are a Kilbey/Church fan then this LP is an essential purchase. The album is one of those that you can play right through without worrying about having to skip a track or two. It’s beautifully produced – warm and full with no sign of the over the top compression that spoils new releases these days (something you can blame on MP3s). The vinyl copy is a limited edition blood red pressing – check it out, it’s beautiful and you know you need it. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Rocket Juice and the Moon – Manuela 10” (2012)

Everyone knows how prolific Damon Albarn is and Rocket Juice and the Moon is a finger in yet another musical pie. This time his fellow core musicians are Flea and Tony Allen. When I first heard about this I thought that putting Albarn and Flea together was madness, but really it makes perfect sense. Check out the self-titled album if you like loose funky jams that fuse different styles.

This track is an off-cut from the main album - an alternate version of There. The A side - Manuela features Erykah Badu and as on the album her rich vocals perfectly match the loose funk on display. The track sports an insistent funky beat with interjecting horns and squelchy keyboards. Badu’s minimalist vocals come and go, sometimes sounding as if she’s trapped in an echo chamber. Great track – you could dance to it but it makes me want to sit in a deep leather couch with a cocktail in one hand.

The B-side is a dub version by Mark Ernestus. The track is slowed down with thick bass vibes, keyboard riffs and disembodied vocals coming in and out saying things like “There we go.” Not that different to the main track, which means that it is just as awesome really.

This one’s definitely worth seeking out - a 10” record is hard to resist, plus you get a mutant Mickey Mouse claiming “Nothing spoil” on the cover, which has a textured feel to it when you run your fingers across it. Cool labels as well – thanks Honest Jons Records! 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Icarus – Paul Winter/Winter Consort (1972)

I knew nothing about Winter Consort when I spied this record at Dada Records. It was in the Jazz section and I grabbed it because its cover photo of rock reclining hippies alerted me to something interesting inside. The spread of exotic instruments on the gatefold also appealed. All Music notes that Paul Winter became one of the earliest exponents of world music when he formed the Winter Consort in 1967.

As I sat on my couch listening to this record my girlfriend came in and laughed out loud, saying that it was “drama teacher music.” I laughed too and imagined a drama teacher (who was a hippy in the sixties) rocking up to his class in track suit pants to do an interpretative dance about the pathos of the setting sun and the only guy in the class who appreciates it looks just like Napoleon Dynamite. Icarus could easily be the soundtrack to that scenario. Don’t let that put you off though; this record certainly has its moments.

The lead track – Icarus lives up to All Music’s description and comes across as hippy world music with its floaty arrangement. Better is Ode to a Fillmore Dressing Room, which I discovered is perfect for contemplating the sun dappled leaves of a pot plant. Great sitar on this track too. The Silence of a Candle is an earnest hippie minor key reflection with vocals, reminiscent of the song cycle California Saga off the 1973 Beach Boys Holland album. It’s both good and bad at the same time. The final two tracks on the first side are simply great. Sunwheel features slightly discordanent horns. It is plaintive and yearning but then has a fantastic little organ vamp (the Bush Organ mentioned on the back cover?). Juniper Bear charms with tabla and evocative classical guitar. I got up to change the side feeling impressed.

The second side begins with Whole Earth Chant – a mini epic with tabla and a host of typical jazz-fusion flourishes, mainly from various melliferous keyboards. All The Mornings Bring features more keyboard noodling, but as with the other tracks on this LP it grows on you after multiple listenings. The last two tracks are perhaps the best  - Chehalis And Other Voices features obo and classical guitar over a beautifully expressive arrangement. Minuit is simply sublime with a lilting melody and massed vocals that swell and fade gently. The track comes across as an affectionate ode to the ideals of hippidom. On the third play I realized that I had once heard this track many years ago whilst driving back from a party late at night on RTRFM and it provided one of those rare moments when a track comes out of left field and provides you with exactly what you wanted to hear in that moment. Finally after all these years I got to hear it again.

This LP is notable due to the fact that George Martin produces it and it also features some top jazz musicians like David Darling, Billy Cobham and Ralph Towner. Some weird instruments are utilized – a bush organ, a contrabass Sarrusphone and a mridangam, whatever they are! Check out the photo of some of the instruments from the gatefold picture.

This is a charming record that is a little dated but should be enjoyable to anyone interested in the less explored margins of jazz fusion or even world music. Put your trust in the sun kissed hippies on the cover and track a copy down. I checked and it’s available on vinyl around the place. It will transport you back to a time about four years after its release when a bunch of punks sat around wondering just what was worse than a hippie? A jazz hippie! 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Loaded – The Velvet Underground (1970)

Anyone who cares about rock music should know about this record, or at least know about The Velvet Underground. I love their records and if I really had to endure having to choose just ten records to keep, then this album and at least two of their others would be there.This album is often overlooked for their first album, or even their third and it is sometimes seen as somehow inferior to the rest of their work. Loaded is perhaps their most accessible record, but that does not mean that it’s a poor quality affair.

If you are new to The Velvet Underground then this is perhaps the best place to start (although you could endlessly argue otherwise). Here’s where the band threw everything at producing a record that would actually sell, but it didn’t work and a disgruntled Lou Reed ended up leaving due to management and song editing reasons. Another important aspect of the album is that, despite being credited as such, the great Moe Tucker did not play drums due to a pregnancy. Instead four other drummers, including Doug Yule’s brother – Billy Yule, banged away on the skins. Once you’ve listened to the Velvet’s for a while you can pick the difference.

The reason why this album has the honor of being the subject of my first main post on Closed Groove is because I recently bought a Record Store Day copy pressed onto pink vinyl. I couldn’t resist basically. Also my original copy of this record, which is a stock standard 1980’s re -release, begins with a series of loud pops and crackles, which reappear throughout the album. Such character was gained from a record player on which the stylus was never changed throughout my entire teenage years (note – change your stylus at least once a year).

The first track is the straight out pop of Who Loves the Sun, sung by Doug Yule in his best little boy voice (that’s him on the cool in the studio photo on the back cover). It’s a knowing pastiche of sixties pop and it’s also bliss. There’s just so much that’s great about this record, from the cough at 1.06 into Who Loves the Sun to the immortal twin tracks – Rock ’n’ Roll and Sweet Jane. These two tracks epitomize what’s great about the Velvet’s, including some of the best rhythm guitar playing you could ever hope to hear. Also Reed’s vocals rival Iggy Pop’s when it comes to definitive rock & roll phrasing.

The rest of the album plays to what were the Velvet’s latter day strengths - well-arranged songs big on tense ensemble playing and great rhythm guitar. Cool it Down comes on like a night in a downtown bar drunk on second-hand despair. New Age is a dorky blue –eyed soul number that Yule sings with a fragility that evokes hope within the tragedy of a life gone sour. The final minute and a half invites drunken sing-a-longs whilst sitting on a dirty couch with the streetlight coming through the window - try it sometime.

Amongst the many highlights is the up-tempo rocker Head Held High, which was mooted as a possible single, and it may have worked too. The country rock of Lonesome Cowboy Bill is one of my favourites on the album. Richie Unterberger’s great book – White Light White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day (2009) notes that this song is a reference to an Andy Warhol film, but previously I’d read that the song is in fact about William Burroughs. If you listen to the lyrics they sound like a bunch of metaphors about the life of Burroughs, which is perhaps a flawed notion, but I’m sticking with it.

I Found A Reason is soulful doo-wop sung by Yule and he nails it. Yule was a really underrated singer, although I would have loved to hear Reed sing this song. Yule sings more on this album due to the fact that at the same time the band were playing a run of gigs at Max’s Kansas City and Reed’s voice was giving way under the strain. The back-up vocals (a great love of mine) are spot on and its warmth really comes through on the vinyl. Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ is blue eyed soul to die for and is a great way to end the album.

If you haven’t played this album for a while then get it out and give it a spin. It’s perfectly sequenced, with a beautifully warm sound and fantastic songs. The Velvet Underground had more soul, street smarts and humanity than most other bands from that era and god knows we still need them now.

                                      "Hey man, it's pink vinyl!!"

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Stating the Case for Vinyl

In the February 2012 edition of Mojo Magazine Jack White has this to say about vinyl:

“It’s still the best medium for music to be delivered on. You should expose kids to it like you expose them to books.”

Vinyl has survived reel-to-reel tape, cassettes, eight tracks, CDs, DAT and it will survive MP3 downloads.

So renouncing boomers, lapsed Gen Xers and download only Gen Yers, it’s time to buy a turntable and experience the real sound of music. I’ve been through my own period of not buying or listening to music on vinyl. After being a teenager in the 1980’s, buying vinyl and amassing a collection of a couple of hundred, I bowed to the seemingly inevitable in the early 1990’s and bought a CD player and I didn’t buy any vinyl again for five or six years. Luckily I did not sell my neglected collection.

It wasn’t until I was studying in the mid to late 1990’s that I started buying vinyl again, simply because it was cheaper to buy second hand. Here’s where I rediscovered its superior sound, its warmth, the smell of the cardboard sleeves and full sized artwork. Most importantly it was the sound that grabbed me – that warmth and the full impact of the bass and drums. It was a revelation.

Even so it took a while for me to be convinced. After years of listening to the plastic ‘perfection’ of CDs I heard every pop, crackle and rumble produced by the needle in the groove. After I started to buy newly released albums on vinyl I would have internal arguments about whether I was doing the right thing investing money in these imperfect objects. But the imperfections are all part of the organic experience of analogue sound and you come to embrace it and love it. You can have a meaningful relationship with your vinyl and it is a rewarding one.

Closed Groove is basically a tour of my record collection with its coloured vinyl, special editions and obscure classics. Although I’ll comment on the music I’m not particularly trying to be a critic, more an enthusiast encouraging people to take a trip down to their record store and reacquaint themselves with the vinyl record. Hopefully via this blog you’ll get to discover some new music, be reminded of great music you’ve neglected and most importantly be inspired to buy a turntable and make a start on your own relationship with vinyl.