Album Reviews

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

Royal Trux “Cats and Dogs” (Drag City, 1993)

Cats_and_dogs_royal_truxAkin maybe only to Guided By Voices for their non-ironic use of classic guitar rock fodder, Royal Trux came together out of noise dirges and suspended clangor when they pushed “Cats And Dogs,” making steps toward indie-rock stardom (yuck, gag) that would never really come (still gag).

What’s for real though is Neil Hagerty’s playing. Bluesy riffs, heavy riffs, nonsense noise interludes, all skewered or unwound… “incendiary” is the word and so is “unique.” Sure it’s only two people, guy-girl combo, plus a friend? Session drummer? Anyway, the stand-in holds the beat and can be driving or plodding. Just enough to support distorted spillage.

Not only do you get a three-piece on “Cats and Dogs,” the best possible line-up in a rock format, but you get referential hard rockin’ material mostly free of the tounge-in-cheek. And it makes the cut: more grit than crit. -Wade

Guided By Voices “Get Out Of My Stations” (Siltbreeze, 1994)

220px-Gooms7_largeA single released before or after Bee Thousand? Same year (a prolific one for GBV) anyway, this EP also acts as a great companion piece. While Bee Thousand sounded like it came from many Rock-historical backgrounds as well as many varied recording environs, Stations is GBV set around a campfire, maybe with a transistor radio. Or maybe more like GBV unplugged…

“Scalding Creek” and “Melted Pat” are drumless, bassless acoustic jams, while “Queen of Second Guessing” is hissing squelching cassette reel noise atop guitar strum and spacey drum padding. Side B has the closest thing to legitimate songs on the whole thing, and that’s not a statement to authenticate it as the quality part of the release. But what nice tunes. “Dusty Bushworms” is especially warming in ways that remind you Pollard’s most emotive Bee Thousand moments.

One of the nicer singles (as in balanced) by GBV in their prime! -Wade

Gino Soccio “Outline” (Celebration, 1979)

R-610679-1226275879.jpegItalians certainty do it better… Disco so cold and spacious you won’t know when one track ends and the other begins. Bass bloops, bass lines, high hat, hand claps… All sterile, airtight and sealed in grooves ready for play.

Gino was the producer behind this listenable longplayer and he actually came by way of Canada… Montreal. Apparently the disco backlash that occurred in the States didn’t echo up North and they welcomed changes in the dance form, like most of Europe. Opener “Dancer” is a classic that would be played out often in America’s remaining discotheque strongholds, with folks like Larry Levan playing two copies of the track in excess of twenty minutes. That’s a groove that can hold a crowd.

“So Lonely” is a piano/seagull/tone generator sketch, then we get to the other dance floor heavy hitters, “The Visitors” (Donna Summer/Kraftwerk) and “Dance To Dance” (Philly-esque). Five tracks in total, three long players that show icy kinship with Italo, the future of dance music production, and the hidden years of North American disco. Throw it on the table! -Wade