= AUGUST 2005 =
|Simon Lewis (Editor)||Dark Side of Syd|
|Jesse W. Poe||Volcano the Bear|
URDOG - EYELID
OF THE MOON
(CD from All Tomorrows Parties Recordings )
Borrowing a phrase from Laurie Anderson, 'Welcome to the difficult listening hour.”
Fursaxa is the alter ego of Tara Burke, the Pied Piper of Philadelphia and one of the most prolific of the new generation of folk singers from the Wyrdchyk movement, under whose increasingly crowded umbrella you’ll find the likes of Josephine Foster, Christina Carter, Joanna Newsome and Marianne Nowottny. These artists have many elements in common, including a fondness for pump organs and a vocal range that runs the gamut from flatlining in the lower depths of Death Valley to helium-induced stratospheric shrieking that frightens dogs for miles around – occasionally in the same song! They also have the uncanny ability to garner adoring praise in such high-falutin' publications as the New York Times and The Wire, while sending confused uninitiates screaming from the room in abject horror. This is my first exposure to Ms. Burke since her alarmingly weird contribution to the Wyrdfolk compilation 'Hand/Eye,' so I’m willing to reserve judgement until I’ve heard a complete, self-contained release.
Burke opens that release (her ninth since 2000, including several self-released CD-Rs) with medieval, wordless (or at least non-English sounding) chanting on 'Freedom,' which has a haunting, religious air about it, as if we’re attending some high holy service, particularly with her ominous, droning organ backing. Flutes, bells and tambourines add a festive air to 'Purple Fantasy' and Burke’s monotonic chanting of the lyrics adds a childlike quality – like a gradeschooler reading a poem composed over summer holiday. More shamanic chanting propels 'Velada,' a loopy maracas-and-flute-driven folk drone highly (and I use the term advisedly) reminiscent of Ben Chasney’s Six Organs of Admittance project. Unfortunately, Burke is not much of a vocalist – she sing/speaks her tales in a deadpan monotone – so your tolerance of the remainder of the album may vary. 'Moonlight Sonata' is the first litmus test where the less-tolerant listener may begin to bail out as Burke moans and chants her way through a barely intelligible pidgeon Latin/English hybrid over a two-note organ drone, and her echoed caterwauling on 'Neon Lights' doesn’t improve matters.
'Karma' restores the religious aura to her chanting, and features a rudimentary acoustic guitar backing that has a surprisingly beautiful, calming effect on the listener. This is clearly the niche Burke needs to explore further, perhaps concentrating future endeavors in this area as a modern medieval chanteuse. The mysterious moaning, squealing chants of 'Poppy Opera' manage to scale both sides of the vocal spectrum, simultaneously invoking memories of Nina Hagen and Nico to create the perfect soundtrack to your stoned wanderings through a haunted house. This is perfect horror film soundtrack fodder, but otherwise a discordant, disturbing difficult listen.
'Russian Snow Queen' is another medieval chant over a droning chord organ that recalls the fine work of Scorces, the hypnotic, droning side-project of the aforementioned Christina Carter and her Charalambides’ cohort, Heather Murray. 'Pyracantha' is another harsh listening experience that suggests Burke should reconsider tackling those lower registers. With its double-tracked chant/moaning and rudimentary strummed acoustic guitar backing, this is the point where listeners may be prompted to hit the stop button and move on to to other musical choices.
Those who stick around for the remaining seventeen minutes, however, will be rewarded with two of the album’s finest tracks, the lengthy meditative drones of 'Tyranny' and 'Una De Gato,' which will clear both your sinuses and your ear canals and perish all evil thoughts that may have arisen during the previous 40 minutes. The former in particular demonstrates an undeniable allegiance to Nico and is very reminiscent of the chanteuse’s 'Frozen Warnings' and Burke’s relentless organ drone may remain buzzing around inside your head for days. After five years of releasing challenging, difficult listening material, it appears that Burke has settled into a groove she feels comfortable in, and despite minor reservations, I recommend you make the effort to join her. (Jeff Penczak)
(CD on Merge Records, www.mergerecords.com )
There was a wonderful four-year period of my life where I lived in a huge warehouse in a predominantly African-American sector of the dilapidated gateway to the south known as Richmond, Virginia. That sector, Church Hill, was a mythic southern place if ever there was one, families sitting on their porches in sweltering summer evenings, abandoned tunnels, tree infested theatres, Barbershops, Usher-like churches that wheezed the soul of old organs for hours on end four nights a week and marathon Sundays, and, of course, someone on every other corner who could sell you a little trip to heaven.
From it's elevated vantage over the city the warehouse should have received the best reception in the city, pointing it's antennae up like a finger touching god, but in fact it was blessed by an AM dictatorship that allowed only one station to come through the radios of these sweaty porches and junkie kitchens. AM 1380 From Sinatra to Streisand, THE MUSIC OF YOUR LIFE. You could smell the lipstick caked menthols wafting out of the speakers from kitchen to kitchen throughout the whole neighbourhood. Even though by that time in my life I had hoarded enough records to dam the Nile, AM 1380 somehow wedged it way into my home during the wee hours of the night and early morning; I mean come on there is only so many times you can lever yourself out of your chair to flip records before you sub come to the allure of a crackly voice that assures you this is your music, the music of your life, the music you want to hear, song after song, night after night, and furthermore the seduction of community, a community which you so often feel alienated from in America, a seduction which was fostered by the fact that when you stumbled out of your flat, bottle of wine in hand, to the house of another, you'd hear the end of the same song you had heard begin within the walls of your own. 1380 ballistared that neighbourhood like an external skeleton that your flesh somehow grew around. The beauty of hearing an entire symphony and the velvet voice of one crooning soul recorded in the grandeur of a full studio into the welcoming arms of Neumans, the warm belly of a Nieve board, and then lovingly committed to history on 2-inch tape, a sound so full and lush that it makes tears well and underwear melt, forced into the constricting compression of the AM bandwidth, a suffrage that even the highest-end stereo couldn't dismount, was beyond explanation. And even through my own hodgepodge audiophile system it still sounded like a transistor radio in a free-calendar garage or sea-green kitchen, but much much louder. And it fulfilled it's own proclamation, as it truly became the music of your life.
Being born fifty years to late and simultaneously fifty years to soon, I had a special love affair with AM 1380, and felt that it was truly the music of my life. However, as much as I was a card carrying member of AM1380's ranks, boots polished to perfection and shining in the beauty of its broken antiquated glory, those songs by O.C. Smith and Floyd Crammer were never interspersed with Roy Montgomery or The third Ear Band like when I was the one putting the needle down myself. I felt like a Jekyll and Hyde hipster switching from the raunch of Louis Prima's AM innuendos and trumpet blasts to the Verve's riff-lifting lilts, living some sort of double life that was dubiously balanced between whore and virgin and equally enraptured in both, and it wasn't until one night in the living room of my karnatic vocal teacher's house, far from the squalor of my own neighbourhood, that I really started to understand my own integrated duplicity.
As a student of my teacher, I was honoured to be the guest of a secret society of music that is near-inpenitratable in America today, that of classical Indian Music Malifs, which are the concerts of world famous Indian performers in the living rooms of America's displaced purveyors of an ancient tradition of underground music. Living room concerts where only family and friends, those with enough money to buy their way in, and music aficionados who could swindle their way into one all night swoon of music and food, fit only for ancient kings and courtiers, would take place right under the sentinel watch of florescent humming west-end street lights. On one of these many precious nights that I was so thankful to be apart of, I happened to wake from my vertiginous swirl of audile’s rapture to see the guy next to me recording/watching the same big bang experience that I was in front of through the pixilated screen of a mini-recorder. And there he was watching this heavy weight player through a 2x2 Sony screen. My first reaction was of indignation and disgust, man I could reach out my hand and fucking touch the guy who was pounding away on the santour and this guy was placing technology between himself and nirvana. WHY!?!? It was only later that I realized that my overly-self-indulgent experience was perhaps a bit achronistic as I swayed to the tambura's drone, one where I had beautiful almond-eyed beauties dropping figs into my mouth satiated beyond human capacity and that this guy next to me was actually (ok maybe) realizing the moment more than me because he was looking/listening to the same thing as me but in the present through the electric eye of our own pixilated present brain-fuck of a culture. That particular night I found myself disgustingly entranced by the small focused vista he held in his hand and wanted to take it into my own hands to zoom in on the pulsing forearms of the tabla player, the black folds of the teenaged Indian girl in the corner, the dilated pupils of the master's eyes as he led the whole room through a dark sequestered night in a wealthy neighbourhood flanked by health food T.V. dinners altered in front of Entertainment Tonight and Sex and the City, and our present dysfunctional theatre of life. And as I gazed through this 20th century crystal ball I realized the idolatry of my own ways, that AM 1380 wasn't the music of my life but of a life that I wished I could live, not in reality, because there would be no Sonic Youth or Tim Buckley, but a time I romanticized as totemic to the things that were innate to me, beauty, reserve, and yet all out abandon to a sound that only existed during that time, 'The sound of the right speaker in the right speaker and the sound of the Left ... this is the hi-fi sounds of when I was twenty-five.'.
When I purchased M.Ward's newest record Transistor Radio, these memories came back in deluge. From the first sounds to the last this record immediately sings of your life today and a time you can't touch but feel a part of regardless. Slowly pulling you in with a low-fi instrumental. It sets the tone and quality of the record that will come to surround you for the next 43 minutes and invariably forever as you find yourself playing it time and time again. I am not saying it is the best record ever, some sort of Astral Weeks, or even that it has the power to change your life, but it has a staying power that is incomprehensible, like a love affair that you think would be good for a short period, a summer fling or something, and then you find yourself spoused, fathered, and unashamedly happy and content. It creeps up on you like a latent desire that you are not aware of and you realize, only after sometime, that you have played it over and over like you only own a record or two.
What is it about this record that makes it have this kind staying power? God I wish I knew, I'd make a dozen myself. It's low-fi, but not in the foolish too cool for a studio style, or too apathetic to believe in it's own merits to financially commit to a studio budget, nor is in a pretentious make it sound low-fi cause it's cool Elliot Smith (god-rest his amazing singer-song writer soul) way. No quite the opposite, it is more like those gorgeous full-studio recordings of old forced through the limiting parameter of a transistor radio. You know I could and still have never been able to get into Steely Dan. But you love engineering and the sound of music and sound itself, how could you not love it? Cause who really has the kind of stereo to really appreciate records like that? And even if you do does it really sound any better than Zeppelin or Jon Spencer? I mean it takes the magical orifice of hearing a hot second to adjust, acclimate and appreciate what your hearing for exactly what it is… music. Two sides of a 78 and you no longer hear the scratch and hiss of history only the songs embedded within. And to be honest as much I love the recent works of the Flaming Lips or little Buckley's Grace, there is something so comfortable about a record that lets you hear every little thing without occupying the sonic spectrum so completely that you are deaf to the very things Cage and the like admonished us not to block out, things like the neighbours fighting and the buzzing of mosquitoes and the hum of your own fridge. This record is recorded in full force and then squeezed into comforting range of an uninvasive parameter of a guy singing in the street or a flat-mate practicing Al Stewart songs late at night in the other room. Stir this up with profoundly simple and exquisitely crafted songs and it begins to take a colossal form.
M.Ward's lyrics for one must be mentioned here. Lyrics are such a difficult and wonderful polemic. They must be specific and personal enough to be distinct and recognizable between artists and have something to say in a new and fresh way, yet at the same time they must be general and all encompassing enough to touch each and every person the same across the board. Think about it, what is your favourite song lyrically, your song, a song that tells your story or at least the story of a particular slice of your life, the song of your love story. got it in your head? Now couldn't you objectively say that those words might be perfect not only for you but also for another person, and for many? Alex Chilton's Kangaroo, for example, 'I first saw you, you had on blue jeans..' and you
immediately conjure the memory of when you first saw her. Yeah me too, and it's the same for everyone else who might still be reading this exhaustive review.
M. Ward, that motherfucker, has this very gift, to spin a yarn, which is so much his very own, and yet you feel that it is your very own. And he does it with such finesse and newness and attention to history. Like in Lullaby +Exile ,'Then a lullaby on Broadway could sound like an exile out on Main, but when that curtain closes you'll be back in your seat again. And the band starts the ball when the chandler starts glowing with or without you knowing who the partner what the dance. Oh a trance is a spell with a thrill wrapped up inside it and try as you might to fight it, love will get you end.' Or in Radio Campaign, which speaks to me so personally I can't even commit it to the page in good conscious or self-respect.
And on the record spins, spelling out my own love and loss. The content of the record handles no profound messages of enlightenment; in fact it is quite the same as for example its contemporarily released Magnolia Electric Co. 'What Comes After The Blues', dealing with themes of the inability to fully realize and act upon love when it is kind enough to present itself to us, the inevitibility of coming to our own predisposition to make piss-poor decisions, touring and insomnia, yet instead of the screaming brittle siren of Jason Molina (whom I love), M.Ward is the comfortable gent in the corner with the sleepy-eyed smile telling us, 'How I wish it wasn't true I ain't gonna stand up here and lie to you, I believe you all deserve more than that, and if there is one thing that I've learned, brother you gonna get burned if you don't know where your love is at.'
This record doesn't preach a life changing gospel or turn phrases in the way you wish you had, but it simply raises a knowing brow and lays a gentle hand upon you shoulder, and it is through this very human touch that you find the words revealed within yourself. As if it is not so much the word transmuted but the purposed word or idea that is almost apprehended right before your own eyes that gives you a leg up just enough that you grasp those words on your own for your own and
then, man, they are your own and this record becomes your own, circling your brain like you have found some sort of port hole to understanding in the simple revolutions of it's own circumference.
With my own unabashed adoration of M.Ward's previous record ‘The Transfiguration Of Vincent’ I was apprehensive that he could reproduce something quite as great; not that I lack faith in his curly locks, but I found it hard to believe that there would be another record by the same man quite as great. I was greatly relieved to find not only was I wrong but ashamedly short-sighted. ‘Transistor Radio’ not only matches ‘The Transfiguration Of Vincent’ but in some ways supersedes it. It has the rambunctiousness of the previous, the gentle seemingly timeless soft ballads, and yet a progression and growth that must exist within an artist, lest they stagnate upon their own laurels.
After the seemingly unnatural thousandth time I have listened to this record in the last few months, I have found a paradigm for the community I was looking for a record which is both old and comfortable, yet contemporary and aware of what came before it, a record which is truly my
own and quite obviously everyone else's who takes it into their own life. A record which is truly the Music of Your Life.
(Jesse W Poe)
(Phantasmagoria, Postfach 1148, D-21707 Himmelpforten, Germany)
Despite the obvious Floydian references in their name, this Dark Side is actually the psychedelic trio of Sigfrid Stern (of Doctor Ozz and The Asses and Dominus of Steel), YELLO founder, Carlos Peron and newcomer Rusty Mars on drums. Peron and Stern met at the Finkenbach Open Air Festival, which was organized by Guru Guru’s guru, Mani Neumaier, and, armed with an invitation from Phantasmagoria to produce a psychedelic record, the pair retired to the Modern Correction Studio to record what was then referred to as 'the LSD Project.” Seven months later they emerged with the half dozen winners that make up Syd’s debut effort.
Housed in a magnificently psychedelic trifold package that’s a work of art in and of itself and would warrant hours of stoned rumination over its cosmic and mythological imagery back in the day if it was wrapped around a slab of vinyl, things get off to a rumbling start with the galloping, Hawkwindish sturm und drang of the epic, 11½ minute ‘You Feel Like Lost Out In Space.’ The decidedly Floydian ‘Black Days’ harkens back to their acoustic soundtrack period of ‘More’ and ‘Obscured By Clouds,’ while ‘Astronomical Tools’ assumes a bubbling, jazzier vibe, a la Ozric Tentacles in their prime.
The electro-acoustic wyrdfolk of the shamanistic ‘Deep Into A Kiss’ manages to successfully marry fragrances of Floyd’s ‘Welcome To The Machine’ with Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks, courtesy Stern’s mesmerizing harp flourishes. Our journey concludes with ‘Outerspace Blues,’ a cosmic floater that pinballs the listener on a magic carpet ride across the galaxy, with the controls set for the heart of the sun and beyond. A wonderful debut that I hope will be more than your typical one-off, superstar project. (Jeff Penczak)
'Catonapotato” is a new live CD from everyone’s favourite ethno industrial free jazz collagists, Volcano the Bear. Recorded throughout Europe in 2004 by the duo of Aaron Moore and Nick Mott (VTB is usually a trio with the addition of Daniel Padden), these tracks capture two musicians that willfully exist in the margins yet always maintain an accessible kinetic base. Volcano the Bear’s music is performed and recorded live, by people no less, who insist on being anything but predictable as they navigate through multiple stylistic dimensions. A random sampling of any VTB album yields passages of art pop whimsy, industrial drone, Middle Eastern folk, free jazz communion—sometimes all in the same song. Each studio album has exhibited an erratic, rough-hewn quality that combines early minimal sound sculpture with DIY art punk aesthetics. The results are always spontaneous in Volcano the Bear’s hands, and 'Catonapotato” is no exception. It just happens to feature some audience noise.
'Gabriel” sets things on fire from the get-go with lumbering jazz percussion driving scorching bow work, slashing its way through the dank air in rabid atonal streaks. The piece eventually builds to a propulsive gallop before shifting to a minimal dream, quickly swallowed by guttural groans rumbling straight from the belly of the Volcano. Next comes caveman drums, shrill brass squawks and the sounds of other bizarre ethnic instrumentation being severely abused. All this is but a teaser for the industrial jazz dirge of 'A Universal History of Infamy.” Here the boys dig in deeper with mournful bows against a mélange of percussive whoosh and clatter as stoned vocal chants writhe in agony. The chanting is intensely levitated over nearly ten minutes, and broken up with stochastic interludes of swampland jazz and strange tones.
'Lovely Shepherd” is two minutes of meditative Middle Eastern horns that eventually explode into the Aylere-sque free jazz assault of 'Puppy Grill”: blurting sax runs over collapsed drum rolls. It proves that these cats can swing with the best of ‘em when they want to. Through it all though, that brittle Volcano edge remains.
Things get both more direct and devotional with the stark primitive pulse of 'My Favorite Tongues,” sort of a cross between Sun City Girls and early Velvets, with a minimal fractured guitar and vocals intertwining as perfectly as anything these lads have conjured to date.
'Ong Pate” downshifts into minimal tones and rustling percussive clatter beneath childlike vocal murmurs. It’s the kind of track VTB likes to drop occasionally to throw the listener off the trail. The injection of clacking percussion and bizarre noisemakers, along with deep elastic bass tones, lands them squarely in the Nurse With Wound nightmare factory. 'Sharp is the Queen’s Teeth” conveys a similar icy minimalism, this time with just reverb drenched minor key guitar plucks. Not surprisingly, the effect is utterly transporting across its length of just over four minutes, percussive thwacks inserted just halfway building to a glorious krautrock freak out.
Somehow, closer 'The God’s Are Massive” manages to sound like nothing that’s come before. Just think about that for a moment. With plodding percussion, detuned guitar and atonal bows beneath disturbed vocals, the piece amounts to a crashing clang fest that honours both the squealing minimal trances of Tony Conrad and the dusted art clang of the Dead C. It’s hard to believe that just two people made this track, let alone the entire album, but then that’s the undeniable beauty of this record. 'Catonapotato” is the height of avant-garage sonic exploration captured in its most feral state. Essential. (Lee Jackson)
(Backwater Records www.backwaterrecords.com )
Phew, this album is so large and grandiose that, when listening, you will need to open all your doors and windows to allow yourself some room to breathe. Opening with some gentle guitar and a famous abdication speech, the album then launches itself into the sky, the bass and drums providing a solid and powerful engine, allowing the guitar to soar and wheel throughout the music with a skill and enthusiasm rarely heard these days. By the time 'Silent And Invisible Converts” arrives we are floating right on the edge of the solar system before the band wind up again taking us into uncharted territory with a massive wall of sound full of electronic effects and deep space rhythms. Elsewhere 'Lilly Lockwood” is a soaring space-rock epic, sounding like prime-time Hawkwind jamming with Tangle Edge, whilst 'The March Of The Mad Clowns” is the soundtrack to a spaghetti western set somewhere in outer space, the snare pushing the song ever onwards. Which bring us neatly to 'Pigwhistle” a fourteen minute instrumental tour-de-force, heavy as fuck, and with the strength to destroy small planets as it ebbs and flows through the ether imploding into a sea of electronics, echo and ghostly voices, before a gentle guitar riff finally offers a way back from the brink of madness.
In twenty years time this album will be recognised as a psychedelic classic of its time. Phil McMullen has been raving about this band for a while now as well, so I strongly recommend that you jump the gun and get your copy now; you won’t be disappointed. (Simon Lewis)
Between Octobers 2000 and 2002, Bardo Pond released four volumes of jams, rehearsals and assorted ephemera on limited edition CD-Rs that were sold on tour (including Terrastock IV in Seattle) and through their website. Long out of print (although two subsequent volumes not excerpted here are still available through their site), these disks showed a playful side of the band, unencumbered by the editing bug required to shape their studio ramblings into a releasable format. The folks at ATP Recordings (who also released their latest album, ‘On the Ellipse’ in 2003) have compiled selections from those releases into this 2xCD set to appease the jonesin’ fans and completists who missed out the first time around and I must confess that herein lies some of the band’s finest work. Long cherished in Dead-like terms as a band who had to be experienced live in order to fully appreciate their grandeur, these tracks may be the next best thing to “being there” and should be welcomed by more than mere completists.
For the curious, this release includes three tracks from Vol. 1, four from Vol. 2, three from Vol. 3 and four from Vol. 4. Presumably the band’s original intentions were to make these noodlings available to their completist fans, so the casual fan should be aware that they do not have the spit, polish and focus (such as it is) of their officially sanctioned full lengths. However, if you are looking for a fly-on-the-wall experience of what the guys (and gal) do for fun, this is a welcome treasure trove of odd ditties, half-baked ideas and works-in-progress. The first disk begins with ‘Vol. 1’’s openers ‘Sit, Sleep,’ featuring a heavily-echoed Gibbons guitar solo somewhat akin to Nick Saloman’s ‘Miskatonic Variations’ and the droning, eardrum-splitting buzz of a single, sustained guitar note known as ‘Cymbals’ that might appeal to electrical engineers and fans of the ‘OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music’ box, if no one else.
The first highlight, ‘Before,’ is another sludgy slice of their patented brew of molasses and quicksand that, to quote Woody Allen, “achieves heaviosity” early on and then proceeds to spend ten minutes forcibly sucking your brain out of your skull. Highly recommended to fans of their contemporary side-project with Roy Montgomery, Hash Jar Tempo. ‘Vol. 2’ gives us ‘Precious Metal,’ a bubbling cauldron of molton lava that threatens to erupt at any moment and is occasionally puntuated by orgiastic mumbling from Isobel Sollenberger, as delectably unintelligible as ever. ‘Alien Heat’ is a heavy-lidded nodder, the possibly result of ingesting a few too many mushroom pies (hold the pie!) and ‘Montana Sacra’ is as vast and imposing as the locale it’s named after. However, it does tend to suffer from the same fate as intrepid wanderers who get swallowed up by their Big Sky ruminations. Sadly, 15½ minutes of misguided feedback is more than I can take and you, too, may want to have the skip button close at hand.
Disk 2 opens with the floating, muscle relaxant, ‘E Dub’ (retitled – but not re-recorded – from ‘Vol. 3’’s ‘Ecstacy Dub’), with Clint Takeda’s melodic bass walking around the Gibbons Bros.’ wah-wah guitar stretching – like pulling Silly Putty to its not-quite-breaking point – while Isobel pulls off a nifty Patti Smith impersonation and fills in the gaps with monotonic non-sequitors. The Bardos have always been known for the none-too-subtle drug references in their song and album titles, but here they pay tribute to another elixir when the get ‘Tanked’ and the result is a Crimsonesque guitar assault from the Gibbons boys.
They’ve also occasionally officially released side-long extravaganzas, so they’re not at a loss when faced with the prospects of a 15-20 minute-slab of virgin vinyl awaiting their musical imprint. Two such efforts make up half the contents of this second disk: the 16-minute‘Lomand,’ an amorphous mushroom cloud formation that finds Gibbons #1 son taking the high road with a lengthy sustain that approximates the sound of a mosquito that won’t let you alone, while Gibbons #2 son runs circles around his brother, practicing more Frondish wah-wah’d variations on all things Miskatonic.
Isobel takes Joplin out for a few ‘New Drinks,’ one of the boys’ infrequent excursions into the blues, although with the slow, typically sludgehammer approach to many of their songs, this wailing, whining, wah-wah’d muthafuckah fits in quite nicely with their chosen modus operandi and could provide illuminating results should they choose to explore this path further.
The second side-long passage,’Narmada’ peaks out from under the covers like a mischievous child until the boys roll out the big guns and rev up their superchargers and proceed to sludgehammer your brain with one of their finest swirling psychedelic jams since ‘Amanita’’s ‘Loaded.’ It’s one of the best tracks in their extensive discography that has swelled to over two dozen releases in the past decade.
It’s rare that band’s of this stature release their practice/jam sessions (recent reference points would be The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ box, Abunai!’s ‘Round Wound’ or any number of Rhino Handmade’s ‘Complete Sessions” disks such as The Monkees’ ‘Headquarters’ or The Stooges’ ‘Funhouse’), so your interest may waver depending on your acceptance of the relative merits of such efforts outside the classroom. Quite frankly, there have been occasions on recent Pond releases where I couldn’t tell where the practice session ended and the real recording began. However, there are many reasons, as enumerated above, for owning this collection, which will appeal to more than just the frustrated completist, not the least of which is the inclusion of the omnipotent ‘Narmada.’ (Jeff Penczak)
(Camera Obscura, PO Box 5069 Burnley VIC 3121 Australia)
As the leader of Dipsomaniacs, one of Norway’s finest pop/psych exports, Holm has fashioned a magnificent body of work across a half-dozen albums, including two for this wonderful indie. This is technically his sophomore solo effort (the Dipso’s 1997 debut ‘Bumble-Bee Eyes’ was essentially Holm and some friends and the band, proper, hadn’t coalesced until the following year’s ‘Reverb No Hollowness’) and he handles all the instrumental chores with brief assistance from Dipso keyboardist Thomas Henriksen, who drops by for three tracks, Andreas Aase’s lap steel on two and Even Granås’ drumming throughout. Holm’s immediately recognisable reedy, nasal voice – most often (and quite accurately) described as “Lennonesque” – kicks off opener ‘Salt-Mutated Summer Breeze’ (which, along with the title track was co-written with Motorpsycho’s Bent Sæther) with a brief a capella intro before sunbursting into a wisp of fresh air, perfectly suited to the song’s title and ‘Wait My Time Away’ jaunts along on the back of another bright and airy melody.
Holm pauses long enough to smell the roses along this magical mystery tour through his mind’s ear with the laidback, dreamy ‘There’s Always May’ and Lennon’s anguished, Primal Scream pleas seep into Holm’s emotional wailing on the bluesy ‘(A Good Taste of) Everything.’ And, dammit, if that’s not the riff from ‘Help” running under the punky, aggro-pop of ‘Seven Years,’ I’ll eat this disk! ‘The Skeleton Key, Pt. 2’ is a romantic, string-drenched weeper that seems out of place here and might have been better suited as the B-side to the marvelously catchy ‘Neighbourhood Watch Patrol,’ a jolly toe-tapper with a percussive driving groove (Holm’s thighs and guitarcase are given musical credit!) that’s lifted almost entact from Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ At times, I even found myself providing the backing “coo-coo-ca-choo”s.
The title track ends this all-too-short album (which occupies less than half its potential disk space) on a more expansive, proggy note, with its multi-layered and multi-directional musical leitmotiv’s taking on the air of a suite. While it may be coy to say so, imagine if Lennon took some time out after ‘Rubber Soul’ to test the solo waters and you’d have an inkling of the aural treats that await you. And even though the songs don’t venture that far afield from our beloved Dipsomaniacs’ formal releases, ours is not to question why this release exists, but to sit back and revel in the fact that it does. (Jeff Penczak)
(Phantasmagoria, Postfach 1148, D-21707 Himmelpforten, Germany)
For this self-compiled, 2xCD retrospective of his storied 15-year career, the self-exiled Shöenfelt, a British ex-pat who's called Prague his home for the last decade, has gathered 27 selections from seven albums, including two solos recorded in England in the early 90s, two albums recorded with the Berlin-based pair of Australian exiles called The Fatal Shore and three albums recorded with his current Czech band, Southern Cross. Presented in inverse chronological order, the set opens with his latest release, the 2003 maxi-single ‘Electric Garden,’ a throbbing, motorik buzz that could just as easily come from the pen and throat of Julian Cope. Five additional tracks from Southern Cross’ 2002 release, ‘Ecstatic’ round out the opening salvo.
Shöenfelt’s career, brilliantly synthesized in his friend Nikki Sudden’s liner notes, has a number of eerie parallels with Nick Cave. Aside from the Berlin and Australian geographical connections, both are novelists and ex-junkies whose hedonistic lifestyles have formed the backbone of many of their recordings. Both also have a gruff, deep bass voice ravaged by years of cigarette and alcohol abuse, such that there were a number of occasions when I could almost convince myself I was actually listening to selections from Cave’s back catalogue! Also, like Cave, Shöenfelt writes beautiful love songs, such as the swaying, countrified weeper ‘Don’t Look Down.’ But that’s not to suggest that Phil is copying or parodying the Australian bard (although ‘The Spirit and the Flesh’ comes awfully close), but is merely mining the same familiar territory with equally impressive results.
Religious imagery permeates many of Shöenfelt’s lyrics from the Garden of Eden, St. Peter and the pearly gates, and numerous conversations with Jesus Christ, to song titles like ‘Devil’s Hole’ (originally heard by Terrascope fans as part of the 7” included free with issue 5 in September, 1990 and later released on his debut album), ‘Angel Street,’ ‘Saviour’s Day,’ Robert Johnson’s ‘Preachin’ Blues,’ ‘Heaven Or Hell,’ and the titles of his two solo albums, ‘Backwoods Crucifixion’ and ‘God Is The Other Face Of The Devil.’ These all reflect the sensibilities of a man who has stared into the face of death and lived to tell about it, using these and other songs as penance for his many dirty deeds done dirt cheap.
The poppy, hook-laden singalong ‘Heaven Or Hell’ could easily have been a hit single, although the decidedly sinister Fatal Shore selections from 2003’a ‘Free Fall’ reflect the dark side of Shöenfelt’s soul as befits the recordings of an ex-junkie collaborating with a couple of Berlin-based musicians. ‘Angel Street,’ for example, is an abrasive, harrowing journey through the sewers and gutters of junkiedom, and Shöenfelt contributes a mean slide to the title track, a bluesy strut through the murky swamps of hell.
‘Ballad of Elijah Cain’ sounds like a Leonard Cohen title and Shöenfelt’s lilting song-story bears the indelible imprint of the master’s early work. As one who has defeated the twin demons of alcohol and nicotine, I can fully identify with ‘A Dialogue Between The Soul And Body,’ a psychological battle for control of the body between the Id, which knows what’s right and the Ego, which knows what feels good. Anyone who’s waged this internal battle over the pros and cons of the next cigarette or drink, knows the pain the body must endure before the intellect comes to its senses and makes the right decision and Shöenfelt effectively captures that struggle.
In the autobiographical barnstormer ‘Damage’ (from Southern Cross’ 1997 album ‘Blue Highway’), Shöenfelt sings “I was born in a town called Misery/I left home to become a ramblin' man/And let the devil take me by the hand” and the song takes its place alongside tracks like Social Distortion’s ‘Born To Lose’ on your mix tape of favourite hard-luck lamentations. ‘City of Dreams’ from The Fatal Shore’s self-titled 1997 debut is another gnarly deal with the devil that resurrects the spirit of Robert Johnson and again boasts some primo slide from Shöenfelt. And Mr. Johnson himself is surely smiling at the low-down and dirty stomping shuffle through his ‘Preachin’ Blues.’
‘The Gambler’ (from 93’s ‘God Is The Other Face Of The Devil’) is another dreary pity party, as a defeated loner looks back on his “empty, wasted, twisted, useless life,” singing “Take me down to the river/and put a gun in my hand/Take me down to the river/I’m a gamblin’ man” with the knowing conviction of someone who has experienced the ultimate desperation of contemplating suicide and lived to tell us about it – all sung like a weather-beaten Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson. I also liked the slick, jangly pop of his autobiographical trawl through the disenfranchised denizens of the ‘Hospital.’ Finally, Shöenfelt steps out front for a rare solo turn in the extended coda to ‘Only You,’ demonstrating a nimble dexterity on the fretboard, and ‘Walk Away’ (from his 1990 solo debut, ‘Backwoods Crucifixion’) is a soft, sad acoustic love song with hints of Springsteen and Hitchcock hovering over the proceedings.
The songs collected on ‘Deep Horizon’ represent a career full of well-written, emotionally wrenching, soul-stirring confessional pop tunes that slice open the underbelly of junkie-dwelling dens of iniquity without resorting to self pity. Shöenfelt knows his life is fucked, but he’s overcome the finger-pointing and name-calling, accepted his self-made predicament and has emerged on the other side with these 27 road maps through hell. This is required listening for all fans of “The Three C’s:” Cave, Cope and Cohen, but everyone reading this will also find much to like. Mr. Shöenfelt’s innumerable skills cannot remain hidden any longer and this just may be the best of the “Best of”’s you’ll hear all year. I, for one, will be seeking out the full releases sampled here immediately. (Jeff Penczak)