Album Reviews

The Residents “The Third Reich ‘N Roll” (Ralph, 1976)

R-309197-1316359991.jpeg

This was my introduction to the Residents and let me tell you, its impact was immediate and powerful. Divided into two sidelong collages of viciously irreverent covers of popular rock songs of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s—“Swastikas On Parade” and “Hitler Was A Vegetarian”—The Third Reich ‘N Roll exposed the machinations of radio fodder as banal and manipulative in the extreme. Yet, even if you’re a fan of the songs the Residents mock here, as I am, you may still find yourself reveling in the clever, ludicrously distorted otherness of these versions. What they do with America’s “A Horse With No Name” is haunting as hell, and more poignant than the original. On the other hand, the Resident’s eviscerate the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” with a tip of the top hat to Joe Cocker’s guttural gargle, to boot. Having a very proper-sounding woman operatically sing James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” in German is wrongheaded genius, and those famous horn stabs sound absolutely hilarious in this context. Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love,” though, is smeared beyond all recognition. Similarly, “Heroes And Villains” sounds nothing at all like the Beach Boys, but rather like a squelched-out warping of a Gershon Kingsley/Jean-Jacques Perrey Moog ditty.

The “Hitler Was A Vegetarian” side takes a while to hit its stride, but when it does, oof. The off-key, out-of-time nightmare of “Yummy Yummy Yummy” might ruin bubblegum pop for you forever. (Nah.) The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” comes off as a brilliant robotic march that foreshadows Cabaret Voltaire’s cover of the Seeds’ “No Escape.” The mangling of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin” is a bloody travesty that inspires deep belly laughs. Elsewhere, Them’s “Gloria” gets desexualized beyond belief while the absurd machismo of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” receives a merciless depantsing. By contrast, the stretch starting with Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and seguing quickly into the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” sounds fucking amazing, as the Residents work wonders out a cheap, out-of-tune synthesizer and shockingly emotive guitar solo, with requisite backing moans. When the “woo woo”s of the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” encroach on “Hey Jude”’s churchy vibes, the album’s relentless deflation unexpectedly turns into inflation. Perverse! Does anyone know Dick Clark’s opinion of this album?

Residents fans probably already know this, but Don Hardy’s documentary Theory Of Obscurity is screening soon in Seattle and elsewhere, and it’s highly recommended. -Buckley Mayfield

Soft Machine “Six” (Columbia, 1973)

51MErwwTDTL._SX355_

By this point in Soft Machine’s history, drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt was long gone and the Dadaist art pop of the first two LPs had vanished in a thick cloud of jazz-fusion smoke. But it would be a mistake to ignore Soft Machine’s post-Wyatt output. While many praise Third as the group’s peak after sweet Bobby W. left, I’m partial to Six—and it’s mainly because of two epic tracks: “The Soft Weed Factor” (John Barth allusion noted) and “Chloe And The Pirates.” I’ll explain why shortly. But first, it’s important to say that Six consists of one live LP and one studio record. The latter is where the best tracks lie.

Don’t get me wrong—the 11 live songs here are quite good. Whenever you have musicians the caliber of Hugh Hopper (bass), Mike Ratledge (keyboards, celeste), John Marshall (drums, percussion), and former Nucleus member Karl Jenkins (oboe, saxes, pianos), you’re going to get smart, complex, timbrally interesting compositions. Ratledge and Jenkins dominate the songwriting, and their PhD-level prog and jazz chops keep your neurons on their proverbial toes (clunky metaphor alert), as you try to figure out their crazy time signatures. The highlight of the concert recordings may be “Lefty,” which sounds like Miles Davis in At Filmore/Live-Evil/Big Fun mode—surprising and explosive.

Now about those two standouts mentioned in the first paragraph. Jenkins’ 11-minute “Soft Weed Factor” is a patiently unspooling piece featuring Jenkins and Ratledge’s intertwining keyboards, a helix of slow-motion, Terry Riley-esque hypnosis. When the methodical funk beats, sinuous bass line, and sax come in, it sounds like Miles and his In A Silent Way band have infiltrated the studio. Chills ensue. It would be okay if this were three times longer. Ratledge’s “Chloe And The Pirates” begins with a spacey electric-piano-dominated fantasia not unlike the intro to Deodato’s “Thus Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” before gradually shifting into a showcase for Jenkins’ beautiful oboe arabesques. He kind of puts Andy Mackay’s part in Roxy Music’s “Ladytron” to shame. Six ends on a very weird note, with Hopper’s “1983” evoking a spinal-fluid-chilling horror-soundtrack vibe with chthonic piano and percussion whose spooked-wind-chime timbres I’ve never heard anywhere else. (If they haven’t already, Demdike Stare really should sample this.) Here’s to world-class studio trickery… -Buckley Mayfield  

The Lafayette Afro Rock Band “Malik” (America, 1975)

R-552839-1331629219.jpeg

You’ve probably heard Lafayette Afro Rock Band without even realizing it. Their song “Darkest Light” has been sampled by Public Enemy (“Show ‘Em Watcha Got”), Wreckx-N-Effect (“Rump Shaker”), and Jay Z (“Show Me What You Got”). Other snippets of LARB tracks also have appeared in cuts by LL Cool J, Biz Markie, De La Soul, Wu-Tang Clan, Gorillaz, and Pizzicato Five. And it’s easy to hear why: LARB brought the funk with pizzazz. Through these stealth methods, they’ve become integral to club culture. But they created plenty of riveting music that’s worthy on its own merits, not merely as fodder for other artists’ output.

The Lafayette Afro Rock Band consisted of seven musicians from Long Island, New York who cut two albums in Paris after deciding they’d have a better chance of breaking out in Europe instead of in the funk-saturated United States. Things didn’t quite pan out for LARB commercially, but 1974′s Soul Makossa and 1975′s Malik have emerged as underground funk classics. Aided by French producer Pierre Joubert, LARB created a flamboyant brand of funk that soared with buoyant horn charts and grooved with intricate bass/drum interplay. Ultimate party jam “Conga” predates the stark, percussion-heavy Latino funk of ESG and Konk by about six years. The title track is a laid-back, summertime-cruise joint whose loping rhythms, organ swells, and Kool & The Gang-like soul-jazz horn swoops evaporate your worries and LARB dabble compellingly with Afrobeat on “Raff.” The notorious “Darkest Light” is a paradoxical classic: It rolls sublimely on an utterly seductive rhythmic undercarriage, but above it there ululates a deeply melancholic sax motif, all of it filigreed with rococo guitar and some weirdly distorted organ (or electronically muted trumpet?). Whatever the case, the song endures as a moving (in all senses of the word) tribute to LARB’s phenomenal chemistry and arranging skills. They conclusively proved that a funk band didn’t need vocals to keep you interested. Every instrument on Malik sings with great eloquence and vibrant litheness.

(In 2007, As The Record Turns reissued Malik on vinyl. That may be the easiest way to score it on wax right now.) -Buckley Mayfield

Steve Hillage “Rainbow Dome Musick” (Virgin, 1979)

cover_42163062009

Remember that one time the flamboyant guitarist for prog-rock juggernauts like Gong, Khan, Arzachel, Clearlight, etc. cut a New Age album around the time the Pop Group’s Y, Wire’s 154, PiL’s Metal Box, and Gang Of Four’s Entertainment! were coming out? Oh, you forgot? Well, here’s a handy reminder. Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick is the proto-chillout record of your mildest dreams (compliment!). It’s no surprise that Hillage later went on to collaborate with the Orb in the ’90s. It’s a bit of a surprise that he went full-on techno with his System 7 project, along with Miquette Giraudy. But I digress.

Rainbow Dome Musick—on which Giraudy also appears—consists of two sidelong tracks: the 23-minute “Garden Of Paradise” and the 20-minute “Four Ever Rainbow.” Right away, with its sample of gently running water and tranquilly tintinnabulating and twittering synth emissions, “Garden Of Paradise” sets you at utmost ease. Every sound on this epic zoner seems purified and heavenly (including the Tibetan bells and lambent guitar trills), intended to induce only the most relaxing and beneficent vibes. And that approach makes some people angry, somehow. More highly evolved beings should luxuriate in the bubbly ethereality and levitational beauty Hillage conjures with the saintly patience of a licensed massage therapist. This track makes Popol Vuh sound like Slayer.

“Four Ever Rainbow” carries a bassier tone from the Moog synthesizer and is somehow even more languid and blissed out than “Garden Of Paradise.” Damn, Hillage was beating Klaus Schulze at his own game. This is the ultimate terminus of the hippie-rock trip, brothers and sisters. What began in complex guitar pyrotechnics and kinetic propulsion gradually downshifted into the flowing stasis and crystalized calm of New Age—an oft-scorned genre, but when done right, it’s an effective conduit to inner peace and profound mindfulness. And Rainbow Dome Musick is New Age done very right. -Buckley Mayfield

Curtis Knight “Down In The Village” (Paramount, 1970)

R-3075284-1314542070.jpeg

Curtis Knight (real name: Curtis McNear) has sunk into obscurity, despite cutting a handful of albums with Jimi Hendrix—none of which I’ve heard, sadly. The greatness of Down In The Village, though, makes that fate seem unjust. This Curtis cat could play guitar, sing, and write riveting songs that, while not on Hendrix’s lofty level, still hit with a bracing impact 46 years after their initial release.

The title track is a helluva way to start an album; it features some of the most satisfying cowbell clonks ever, and boasts a filthy groove that rivals CCR’s in “Run Through The Jungle” for in-the-pocket righteousness. “Lena” is a heart-trembling love song with a menacing riff running and stunning through it, and Knight lets off some primo early-Bob Seger vocal screeches near the end of it. “See No Evil” swaggers like Deep Purple’s cover of Joe South’s “Hush.” “Hi-Low” begins with a wicked breakbeat and blooms into a strong, funky blues-rock grind.

The ballads (“Friedman Hill,” for example) aren’t all that great and sometimes the rock and roll gets a bit corny (“Goin Up The Road,” for instance), but the hard rockers more than compensate for that—especially “Give You Plenty Lovin’.” At nearly 10 minutes, the song’s an incredibly adrenalized and obsessive psych rocker whose end-of-tether vocals and spectacular guitar conflagrations hint at Mudhoney’s attack—about 18 years before that Seattle band began releasing records. “Give You Plenty Lovin’” should’ve closed Down In The Village instead of opening side two, but that’s a quibble. This is a great, raucous rock record that’s been slept on for far too long.

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno “Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics” (Editions EG, 1980)

homepage_large.c57b45b6

This album is the dream that keeps on giving. It is mainly the work of trumpeter Jon Hassell, a student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath. On this LP, Hassell pioneered a unique brand of ambient, subliminally rhythmic music he dubbed “Fourth World.” Brian Eno added his discreet production touches and conceptual suggestions, but it’s Hassell who stirs the sound into its timeless placelessness. Attentive listeners will notice Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics‘ influence on Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which came out a year later.

Throughout Fourth World Vol. 1, Hassell makes his trumpet utter exotic avian and animalistic cries, sighs, and murmurs; it really is like nothing else I’ve ever heard. The five tracks on the first side—“Chemistry,” “Delta Rain Dream,” “Griot (Over ‘Contagious Magic’),” “Ba Benzélé,” “Rising Thermal”—could be Plutonian jazz or ritual music for a prehistoric race… or for accompanying whatever ceremonies humans will hold in the 31st-century. These tracks are at once unsettling and calming, alien and poignant. They make you feel bizarre emotions that seem outside of human experience. “Delta Rain Dream” is the zenith of the LP’s hazy oneiric drift, with Nana Vasconcelos and Ayibe Dieng’s congas enhancing that feeling by tumbling in an uncannily off-kilter cadence. The sidelong “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’)”—bear with me here—could’ve soundtracked those slow row-boat rides in Apocalypse Now… if the film had swapped out its hellish milieu for a heavenly one. The trance-inducing “Charm” is the perfect finale to an album that gently launches you out of reality into an imaginary environment that only a genius of Hassell’s caliber can conjure.

In 2014, Glitterbeat Records (run by ex-Seattle musician Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts) reissued Fourth World Vol. 1 with liner notes by Pat Thomas, which include an interview with Hassell. -Buckley Mayfield

Patrick Cowley “Muscle Up” (Dark Entries, 2015)

pcPerhaps you don’t spend much time thinking about gay porn soundtrack music. No worries—it is a fairly niche subgenre. But if you happen to be curious about this stuff, you could hardly do better than to explore the output of Patrick Cowley. Luckily for us, the Dark Entries label has reissued two collections of Cowley’s ’70s and ’80s work, School Daze (2013) and, most recently, the double LP Muscle Up. Whatever clichéd vision you have of gay porn soundtrackage, Cowley will make you readjust your expectations.

Cowley’s music is often eerily atmospheric and, yes, funky, but not in any cheesy, hamfisted way. Some tracks—like “Cat’s Eye,” “The Jungle Dream,” “Uhura,” “Mockingbird Dream 2,” and “Deep Inside You”—sound more like scores for space travel or nature documentaries than they do of cinematic sex. Beatier numbers like “Somebody To Love Tonight” and “Pigfoot” pump with a sexy thrust, but are also adorned with the sort of astral synthesizer dust that will enrapture Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Heldon fans. “5 Oz. Of Funk” is the most lubricious/tumescent piece here, and it is sure enough filthy to the core. But then you get something like “Timelink,” which sounds like a didgeridoo hyperventilating in the ozone layer. It’s kind of funny and ludicrous to think that this tune thrummed in the background of some dudes’ orgasmic experiences.

But credit to Cowley for landing this sort of utilitarian job and creating something extraordinary and subversive; what was probably a low-rent gig resulted in high art. [Muscle Up comes with informative liner notes and an XXX-rated poster.] -Buckley Mayfield

The Equals “Hit Collection” (President, 1971)

R-3504141-1375289137-7994.jpeg

It says something that I’ve only seen two Equals albums in all my years of record shopping—and one of ‘em is this double LP of chart-dwellers by the multi-racial British R&B/pop-soul group. What it says is that some enterprising label really ought to do the legal legwork and reissue a grip of the Equals’ best material. Until that happens, you might have to make due with Hit Collection or the other Equals release I see most often, Baby, Come Back (1968, RCA). To understate things, they’re better than nothing.

Hit Collection gathers 24 songs from the Equals’ hugely popular (in Europe and England) early phase, and if you dig instantly catchy ’60s R&B sung with gutsy gusto by Derv Gordon and accentuated by the attractive, clipped guitar riffs of Eddy Grant (yes, the bloke who sang “Electric Avenue”), you’ll want to nab this comp… or the 7-inches of which it’s composed, if you’re a very patient and affluent collector.

Highlights here include the Northern soul stomper “Softly, Softly,” the enchanting chugger “Baby, Come Back,” the bubblegummy “Green Light” (which the Detroit Cobras have covered), the marauding “I Can See, But You Don’t Know,” and the exuberant outlaw anthem “Police On My Back,” made famous by the Clash on their 1980 LP Sandinista!

There are a few sappy moments on Hit Collection, but overall the songwriting quality is brilliant. We repeat: Let’s hope some savvy record company is planning to get the Equals’ music back into circulation. It’s way too good to languish in obscurity. -Buckley Mayfield

Saint Vitus “Born Too Late” (SST, 1983)

51ENjP7WEvL._SY300_Thick, fuzzy sludge that reset the template for heavy bands everywhere. Saint Vitus scored D.C. area legend Scott “Wino” Weinreich for vocals and lead and continued to wind down the Sabbath sound to doomy atmosphere’s that Wino, an old soul, utters over. And what Vitus offers in their echo is a halt against the current times.

The title track sets the tone: alienated man can’t dress in vogue, gets looks for hair, wear. “Born Too Late” is acceptance of self and rejection of forward movement for movement’s sake. Not that they can’t move something forward… the sound of heavy music to follow. Tempos are just above a pulse most times, but rise and crash at all the right moments, in contrast to the driving beats and breakneck rhythms offered from most of their contemporaries.

“Born To Late” is often thought to be among their best, and plenty of groups like Sleep, Electric Wizard and EyeHateGod would probably attest to that. -Wade

Einstürzende Neubauten – Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T (Some Bizzare, 1983)

220px-ZeichnungenDesPatientenOTAlbumCoverRight out the grinding gate, Neubauten sound slower paced, more deliberate and focused. While these derelicts still use any and all metallic material they can get their hands on for sounding, they get around to using some primitive samples, and sound bytes too, for a somewhat smoother experience…

With rhythms placed, there is no need to go white-hot in industrial noise. Still not synth-popping or going new wave, Neubauten just get a bit more spacious in their delivery, slowing to a plod or a throb. At this point Blixa and company were really getting out of native Germany, and instead of getting safer in recording they stretched songs out, panned everything to extreme ends and generally made themselves less approachable despite their new use of meter.

What’s the use of inept horn wafts, air conditioner rhythms and muffled vocals backed with skittering cutlery? I guess they were the first to pick it up and take it semi-seriously, before others got into it (industrial) wholesale or whole-sale. And it got less fun. Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, D.A.F. all soured. SPK or Nurse With Wound? Depends on how serious or how camp you want to take it. Still pretty solid with Throbbing Gristle. Einsturzende? They had quite a few good ones after this. -Wade

Throbbing Gristle “Heathen Earth” (Industrial, 1980)

220px-ThrobbingGristleHeathenEarthAlbumCoverI think this best represents TG’s sound: improvised noise in a controlled studio environment. You get a real White Light / White Heat intensity from this set. Chris and Sleazy push the live tape manipulation / sequencing / synthesis envelope to the max.

Anyone who is into the early schematics of actual industrial should give this a listen — it’s a wonder what a couple modified tape decks and a few synths can do. Gen-P and Cosey add a rather unsettling, [physical] / animalistic feeling to the mix; …, Gen-p coming off as a dictator. You might also want to find out who was present in the studio during this recording; a who’s who of the post-punk / avant-industrial elite, with just their presence adding an air of mutual-ritual to the whole thing. -Phillipe

Budgie “Squawk” (Repertoire, 1972)

1288564Deep cuts! Hardly known at the time outside of the U.K (and beat to the punch by Sabbath and Savoy in their own country), Budgie were heavy and hard, furthering forms adopted by metallers and rockers anywhere from Iron Maiden to Black Flag.

Comparisons are also drawn to the progressive tendencies of Rush, but I hear more vocal work akin to Geddy than anything else at this point in their trajectory. “Squawk” is more of a solid hard rock slab, a bit cleaner than Blue Cheer, but more straight ahead, a real stoked engine. Also hear some Savoy Brown… Chimes appear hear and there, keyboards on occasion, and acoustic numbers seem to be overlooked in other write-ups.

Anyway, seeing a Budgie album will guarantee a good time if you enjoy Heavy Rock, roots in Metal or the first to second wave of British Blues. Riff, chug chug, riff chug chug… Heavy three pieces can’t be beat, you know? Check out “Hot As A Docker’s Armpit” for more. -Wade