Album Reviews

Dalis Car “The Waking Hour” (Beggars Banquet, 1984)

dalis_car_logo

Now this is an interesting piece of New Wave… an album where the members hardly ever met up and sent material to one another, patching vocals and rhythms together, wherever. And what members; Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy broods and self-taught bassist Mick Karn of Japan plays just about everything.

Dalis Car, named after a short Beefheart instrumental, only produced this one full length album, “The Waking Hour,” and it’s a humorless chunk of vinyl that I’d say is akin to PiL’s “Flowers of Romance” but a bit more listenable. No John Lydon caterwauling for one, but also these meditative sub-groove tunes put you in their strange headspace a bit more effectively.

Mick Karn’s bass lines really are the star of the show here. No other bass has his sound, though he lent his abilities to Japan, assisted Murphy here and did session work with Gary Numan. The best example of his style really comes through on the track “Artemis,” an instrumental with simple drum patterns, percussion and horns all sliding by Karn’s fluid, fretless work. Peter Murphy is more or less himself, but he is a bit more tame on this release, which is all the more fitting for such coldly produced material, and I mean that in a good way.

The meeting of minds for Dalis Car was promising, but unfortunately, by the time Karn and Murphy had reunited to make new material, Karn entered a battle with cancer and quickly succumbed. “The Waking Hour” is not only of interest to fans of Japan and Bauhaus, but a great slice of New Wave that could have potentially led down some interesting avenues. -Wade

 

The Minutemen “What Makes A Man Start Fires?” (SST, 1982)

393db29bd8

Being a pop culture staple now, many album lists cite “Double Nickles on a Dime” as The Minutemen’s number one release with a bullet. And being that it’s a double album chock full of material, it may seem like the only pieces of vinyl by them you would have to pick up to get a feel for who these guys are.

A few better and much more timely reviews are available from rock-write gods Richard Meltzer and Byron Coley on the topic of this full length, “What Makes A Man Start Fires?” – but I’ll tackle it anyway. After “Paranoid Time” and “The Punch Line,” this LP draws the line between the Pedro boys and a lot of the punk-funk material being released across New York and a whole lot of Europe. The songs are longer, change grooves more and more frequently and have a quality many of those groups lacked; combustion.

Yes, The Minutemen were a rock band and not just a West Coast post-punk outfit per se, or at least not in total. Songs, songs not tracks, like “Fake Contest” and “The Anchor” for a start, have undeniable grooves, and they could be extended dance numbers, but their short, punchy lengths and D Boon’s trebly guitar and spouting keeps them right in their very own proper rock context.

Meltzer: “…they told riffs, both unviable and viable, where to get off; used em’ only as suited their fancy, by which I don’t mean they were fancy ass fashioners, I mean they stripmined their musical souls…” and Coley on upping funky post-punkers: “…brings the band one conceptual step closer to the mainstream and demonstrates a firm grasp of (and delight in) the genre that previous demi-funk sorties inferred.”

For borrowed start/stop grooving of R&B and homemade rock, this is their most fleshed-out effort… and it was probably their transition point! How many groups pull that off? -Wade

 

The Flying Lizards “The Flying Lizards” (Virgin, 1979)

flflfcover

London was home to many interesting musical artists of the late 70s, and The Flying Lizards may be one of the most shadowy outfits of the day. Made up of experimental musicians interested in pop music, their ranks included emerging music journalists David Toop and Vivien Goldman (the latter being a sort of Marianne Faithful type) and a number of improvisers.

On this self-titled debut, excursions into dub, sound collage and dressed down disco make a great backing for frilled or deadpan lyrical deliveries. “Her Story” simply describes itself as a love song with no need for further investigation, while “Russia” just lets the beat ride, sounding a bit like a Talking Heads “Remain In Light” outtake.

While the Lizards do experiment with pop forms, one of their only efforts to succeed at charting was their enigmatic cover of “Money.” Quote unquote singer Deborah Evans stripped down monotone delivery is prominent and in stark contrast to the shambling instrumentals and backing run-down by the Lizards, turning the cover into a cult favorite. It even meanders into an extended, dubby, musique concrete mess of sorts.

Many members of the Flying Lizards dispersed further underground or into obscurity. This debut is a real lynchpin of new music from post-punk London and still sounds exciting today. -Wade

 

Guided By Voices “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” (Engine, 1994)

Fast_Japanese_Spin_Cycle_EPReleased the same year as “Bee Thousand” and about a thousand other EPs, “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” represents a time when Guided By Voices were often on point with their prolific output and produced more hits than misses.

Clocking in at just more than ten minutes, this EP contains some of Robert Pollard’s best pop fragments. Opener “3rd World Bird Watching” begins with only piano and vocal accompaniment of the most perplexing variety. Strangely or maybe logically, the near esoteric quality of Pollards lyrics work fine the more condensed and punchy he keeps his numbers. This continues whether the songs have pop hooks such as with “My Impression Now,” or simply attack in bits like “Snowman.” Repeated listens are easier with shorter track times, so these ditties seem to create pathways in your brain that worm Pollard’s bizarre statements into your mind.

The B-side is even more interesting, with radically altered versions of previously released material. “Marchers in Orange” is less hazy, more rocking, while “Dusted” sounds much more improved in about every way. “Kisses to the Crying Cooks,” part of the medley that opens GBV album “Propeller,” is also acoustic and more poignant.

If there was any time to mine GBV material, most releases from 1994 are still a sure bet. “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” is the cream of their pop-rock collage crop. – Wade

 

 

LA Vampires By Octo Octa “Freedom 2K” (100% Silk, 2012)

R-3648894-1338820276-2023.jpeg

21st Century music has led to some pretty interesting permutations. Sounds and rhythms and equipment that was forsaken by underground rock purists (in America) suddenly didn’t register as taboo anymore with a younger generation hungry for new styles to consume.

Like labels Olde English Spelling Bee and DFA, the work put out by the California tastemakers of Not Not Fun and their dance-oriented offshoot 100% Silk mix the spirit of underground autonomy with adventurous production. Not Not Fun’s founder, Amanda Brown, releases albums under the name LA Vampires, and produces one-off projects with many of the her labels stablemates.

On “Freedom 2K” she took a shine to house producer Octo Octa, who makes sleek and shiny tracks in comparison to other label affiliates. Whereas previous LA Vampires output was murky and bubbly, a fringe dance interest, this album can be seen less as an outsider work and more like something you might really hear in a high-end club. Tracks “Wherever Boy” and “Freedom 2K” are lush, golden tracks for clubbing. “His Love” and “Found You” may be just as suitable for a chill-out room or home listening as they are on the floor.

Slender beats and hardcore bass shifts all over, “Freedom 2K” is a great introduction to an underground label that that doesn’t see dance-music making as a curiosity, but as a future. -Wade

 

Gap Band “Gap Band VI” (Total Experience, 1984)

Gap+Band+VI

Well into the pioneering of electro-funk, Gap Band ringleader Charlie Wilson was set on producing a solo effort. But it’s best that he stuck with his brothers and gave the group another solid release; don’t let the indiscernible title of “Gap Band VI” fool you into thinking that this was just a push of the Band’s scraps or B-sides either…

The Gap Band’s brand of funkateering walks the line between P-Funk heavy and Prince post-disco, but with an ear that’s always craned toward the charts and the dance floor. Tight, punchy and future-forward, tracks like “Video Junkie” also employ plenty of machine washes and electronic squiggles that lend a feeling of paranoia. “Disrespect” acts in a similar manner, but embellishes the vibe with high-end percussion and whistle blurts.

Top single “Beep A Freak” is the real crown jewel though, with it’s hovering, ever-present beeper tone and electrobass growls. What might come off as a really dated track (it references pagers, after all) is actually an ouroboros pop-trope about just wanting some double-meaning contact. Put a tight band and a beat behind that and you really can’t fault that kind of songsmithing. -Wade

 

Saccharine Trust “Paganicons” (SST, 1981)

Saccharine_Trust_-_Paganicons

As well known as SST may be in America courtesy of releases by the near unswayable Black Flag and underground rock staples Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth, much of their roster still goes unnoticed. And even when Saccharine Trust got name-dropped by Kurt Cobain they still managed to slip into the ether.

Not that SacTrust really made it easy on themselves; their brand of rock isn’t as dope-smoking friendly as their more popular San Pedro brethren or the Puppets. Their first release “Paganicons” is actually about as conventional as it gets for them, and it’s still a challenge; but this EP is also tight interplay, great changes and aberrant lyrical prose from front to back.

Vocalist Jack Brewer comes across as if he’s just breaking through pubescence (that would change), or belting out his voice for the first time in his life, and his way of delivering just-so stories differs greatly from any other known punk rock affiliate of the day. And accompanied by a killer rhythm section, one of the final guitar heroes of our age, Joe Baiza, really trucks along with lines that would evolve into some of the most inventive playing put on disc, or on stage for that matter.

Going track by track would really be redundant, since each one is a great story or feeling conveyed. The voices at work are really unlike any other outfit before or prior, and their touring reactivation in the U.S. and Europe has finally gained them much deserved attention in recent years. – Wade

 

Miles Davis “Live – Evil” (Columbia, 1971)

Miles_Davis_Live-Evil

Ah, the magic of 70′s Miles is timeless. And while some would claim “On The Corner” to be his best disc produced by the ace Teo Macero, I’d voice that “Live – Evil” has got it beat by a mile. Cut up from a number of performances in a seamless fashion, maybe inspired equally by the Dead and Hendrix, Miles and company plus John McLaughlin produce spacious skeletal rhythms, full-on extended funk medleys, feedback tinged segments that never meander and short, affecting balladry.

Opening track “Sivad” spills out immediately in a gush of percussion and slows down a touch to show off the new bastardized, amplified direction of Miles work. “Little Church” and “Selim” go solo-less, with each track being surprisingly pastoral, melancholy. Those last two cuts are by Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, who went on to play with Davis, and they stand as some of the best highlights on this disc.

Also worth mentioning is the great panoramic interplay between McLaughlin and Davis on the side one closer “Gemini / Double Image.” Sounds like a walk home from a particularly hard night and not far off from what today’s noiseniks might try to emulate (with a bit more high end), only by way of swapping instruments for an array of effect pedals and industrial clangor…

Go on? James Brown might be cited just as much as Hendrix for influence on “What I Say” or “Funky Tonk,” syncopation minus the vocal commands. Miles is really modern and on top with this piece, he runs the voodoo down and his synthesis of styles works well… Critics of the day wouldn’t call it jazz; but who needs a label for it when it’s so ahead of it’s time? Miles ahead, as usual. -Wade

 

Public Image Ltd. “Metal Box” (Virgin, 1979)

PILMetalboxHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTDigging through the “P” section of a record file and finding a metal canister these days isn’t too uncommon. And if you are just getting into PiL, then it will probably be exciting, since the contents inside this “Metal Box” are some of the strangest, most vehement studio works to ever surface on vinyl.

While their self-titled debut willfully trailed off from the typical punk rock template of the day to show off experiments in dirges, spoken word excerpts and even some studio flirtations on it’s closer “Fodderstompf,” the three plates inside “Metal Box” show just what some open-minded troublemakers could do when they were allowed to goof off with corporate money backing them. The general idea behind PiL’s strange packaging was instead of releasing a bloated double album, they would be producing a bundle of “singles.” And we aren’t talking 7” singles. Which really meant that these “punks” were actually more into contemporary moments of the day that were released on dub-plates and extended disco edits.

Not only was the release a brave idea (or at least an opportune idea agreeably pushed along by Virgin, due to Ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon’s celebrity), but their approach in the studio was also informed by the production of those styles. It’s all just done about… atypically. Lydon, bassist Jah Wobble and former Clash guitarist Keith Levene were joined by a number of drummers to produce exciting, monotonous rock (“Albatross,” “Poptones”) derelict disco (“Memories,” “Socialist,” “Swan Lake”) and some simple sketches made to stretch across your speakers (“The Suit,” “Radio 4”). Taking these records out of their protective tin can be a chore, and the constant shifting of styles slapped together across each track can make make this parcel a bit of a challenge.

But approached one disc at a time, over time, “Metal Box” can be one of those truly rewarding albums that surprises you with every few listens. Luckily, this very strange slab of experimental pop has been reissued by the label 4 Men With Beards, and in it’s proper protective casing at that. -Wade

Sparks “Propaganda” (Island, 1974)

sparks-propaganda-frontSparks can sort of be seen in a similar light to Queen, although they ape their accents to sound quasi-Brit and ditch solos for lyrical cynicism. Maybe that’s why they have a bit of an underdog quality.

On “Propaganda,” Sparks are instrumentally tough and create simple ditties built around pop piano. The fat is cut with minimal solo’s allowed, so propulsive and repetitive tracks rule, from the mile-a-minute “At Home At Work At Play,” to the tempo-shifting “B.C.” They also make great use of the studio on “Achoo” and “Who Don’t Like Kids,” silly tunes which are grandly displayed. Why weren’t these guys signed to Discreet?

Well, despite lyrics appearing distrustful on some tracks, they were actually earnest sounding on “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” and delivered bonafide pop on “Something For The Girl With Everything.” It’s hard to really put a finger on where Sparks might be placed on your shelf, but I bet it’s somewhere near 10CC and Zappa. Especially this album, since they were still operating in top form as a band in 1974 and had not yet transformed into a New Waver two-piece… Enjoyable! -Wade

Mi Ami “Steal Your Face” (Thrill Jockey, 2010)

mi_ami_0420Two DC boys spawned out of some post-hardcore Dischord zone ended up in San Francisco with their strings and a Michigan-bred drummer in tow. Well into the 21st century, this power trio tapped into dissonant music stylings of all sorts and let it rip with rocked-out fury.

Mi Ami seemed set upon bringing the punk/noise axis a bit closer to dance, free jazz and world music, and if that sounds like it’s a repeat of The Pop Group or DNA or some other post-punk unit, then the description doesn’t quite work. See, what we have here on “Steal Your Face” is not as anti-rockist as those new wave forerunners. Daniel Martin-McCormick’s guitar playing can be a banshee in a snowstorm, or a series of direct hits with a serrated edge. Bassist Jacob Long maneuvers as a strained tightrope while Damon Palermo places his beats in a busy and danceable fashion.

And many of these tracks are danceable; “Latin Lover” is the closest thing to dance floor fodder you’ll find on the disc. Rending guitar shreds at all the right moments to lose your head to while the attacking rhythm onslaught keeps things grounded. But all the while, McCormick’s unique style of singing may be a turn off to some listeners; his vocals send up hardcore flags… Not that you’ve heard a hardcore-kid rip a Whitney Houston lyric before. And he makes his vocal delivery count just as much as his exciting guitar flaying.

Then a churner like “Dreamers” will have you seeing another interesting side to this group, one that has many interesting tangents to explore. Many of the numbers here can be expansive, sparse or confusingly full on first listen, and once collected together under an album dubbed “Steal Your Face,” well… Maybe they are more indebted to fleshing out sound in a manner more similar to the Dead rather than PiL?

Later albums of Mi Ami went sans-bass player and opted for a two man dance operation that’s a very different animal, but their energy and work ethic has spawned many prolific dance projects still ongoing. “Steal Your Face” is their last great statement as a modern power trio. – Wade

Sly & The Family Stone “Small Talk” (Epic, 1974)

Sly_and_The_Family_Stone-Small_Talk_bAfter some seriously paranoid and political detours, Sly and company went back to basics on “Small Talk,” and that title may sadly be synonymous with how reviewers of the time saw this album. Something like a throwaway.

While not as immediate as previous albums or singles, “Small Talk” can still be taken in as a major pleasure. Still adventurous in the studio with overdubbing, Sly assembles small talk of all sorts (including that of an infant) to crowd your speakers on the title cut, and grooves continue on in a meandering fashion all the way to the end of side one, finishing up with a hard slab of familiar drum patterns on “Can’t Strain My Brain.”

On the flip, single “Loose Booty” (sampled to kingdom come) will be instantly recognizable to first time listeners whether you catch the vocal or drum samples. The greatest example of this popular rip would go to the Beastie Boys on “Shadrach.” Infectious and danceable, this would be one of the last bits of Sly’s output to reach high on the charts. As for the rest of side two, the grooves here are more upfront and are ready-made to be spun at a house party until you hit some slow jams… and strings accompany the final track “This Is Love,” and while it’s not exactly as sumptuous as some Philly-soul record counterparts it gets the job done just fine.

While not as heavy as a riot, this later period Sly release is still something worth bringing up in conversation. And hey, you’ve already heard it, whether you know it or not! -Wade