Rock

Blurt “Blurt” (Red Flame, 1982)

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Blurt don’t get enough respect. Led by poet/saxophonist/blurter Ted Milton, they were one of the oddest and most galvanizing bands from Great Britain’s post-punk movement. Surfacing a year after 1981′s live full-length In Berlin, their self-titled debut studio LP consists of seven tracks that strip funk and jazz-inflected no wave down to insanely logical essentials. These lean vehicles operated by Milton, his brother Jake (drums), and Pete Creese (guitar) get your hips twitching and your brain itching. The songs are both tight and spacey—a rare combo of elements that coheres into trance-funk jams punctuated by Milton’s rude, shredded sax jags and spluttering, megaphoned rants. If you saw Ted Milton doing his thing on the street corner, you’d give him a wide berth. See him onstage or hear him on record and you’re transfixed and repulsed in equal measure.

“Dog Save My Sole” instantly sets the template for Blurt: solid-as-hell, tom-tom-heavy funk beats that hit you in your root chakra; geometrically precise, lightly discordant guitar figures that cycle like ∞; and Milton’s raucous sax squawks and mad shouts. The weirdly galloping “Trees” might appeal to fans of Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings, which also came out in 1982. Milton’s sax is at its most mellifluous and Creese’s guitar takes on a percussive, Afrobeat tenor. “Physical Fitness” crunches your abs with rolling and tumbling tom-tom and kick-drum beats while Ted lays down some knuckle-biting, spy-jazz motifs and Creese scratches out a guitar riff that sounds like a strangled tiger snarl.

“Empty Vessels” is streamlined funk with an undulating groove that you never want to end—trust me on this. Creese executes a minimalist, “King Sunny Adé on a short leash” guitar mantra, while Ted spits leery squiggles of sax over everything. The rudimentarily funky “Play The Game” sounds like it’s repeatedly falling down the stairs into a Manhattan jazz club circa 1961, as TM shreds his larynx with some babble. Without warning, the song speeds up… because Dada. “The Ruminant Plinth” is the closest Blurt comes to a single (which it was): It’s the sort of jittery yet maniacally disciplined jazz funk that could make Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 sweat their asses off. With contrarian bullheadedness, Blurt closes with “Arthur,” the LP’s slowest cut; Ted and the guys sound relatively narcotized, but the melismatic jazz funk will surely put you in a strange reverie.

There’s nothing on Blurt that’s as rabble-rousing and catchy as their early-’80s singles “The Fish Needs A Bike” and “Get,” but this remains Blurt’s most consistent full-length effort and an essential, bizarrely shaped piece of the original post-punk puzzle. -Buckley Mayfield

The Stick Men “Get On Board” (Red Records, 1983)

 

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This Philadelphia quintet made James Chance and the Contortions sound like laid-back Eagles fans. To say that the Stick Men’s funk is frantic and urgent is a grandiose understatement. This five-track EP should come with blood-pressure medication. To be sure, Get On Board is highly obscure, but it somehow gained a blip of recognition in my Midwestern city in the early ’80s. I recall hearing some tracks from this record on the local NPR station’s alternative-music program on a Sunday night and having my mind properly blown. Three decades later I found a copy in a Detroit-area shop for $3. You should’ve seen my god-damn expression of surprise. It’s so good to be reunited with this wild and wired 12-inch.

The EP kicks off with “Funky Hayride,” which emerges out of a babble of chicken squawks before blooming into an absurdly fonky hoedown powered by a rubbernecking, strutting bass line that would make Larry Graham raise two thumbs. The song establishes the Stick Men’s ricocheting vocal interplay, jagged dynamics, and predilection for kinetic cowbell thwocking. It also reflects their ability to create weird tension even as they inspire you to get on down—à la the Contortions. “Bone Shadow” is an amphetamine blurt of staccato no-wave rock that could start a whirling-dervish moshpit under the right circumstances. “Action Man” sounds like the Pop Group and Clock DVA splinter group the Box in a pressure cooker. “Crash My Dome” is almost as hectic as its predecessor and studded with unpredictable moves, a sort of fleet funk that’s tied up in strange knots, like a Type-A Minutemen. “Jampire” could be an accelerated, Cubist interpretation of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”; it’s an aptly chaotic conclusion to a record that believes, like Sonic Youth, confusion is sex.

Get On Board is super brief, but with its whirlwind energy and flagrant tension, that’s sort of a blessing. You will feel wrung out and exhilaratingly stunned by the end of its 11-minute running time. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Ramsey Lewis “Mother Nature’s Son” (Cadet, 1968)

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What happens when a black man covers songs on The White Album? Magic, as it turns out. Releasing an LP of 10 interpretations from a record that came out earlier in that year by the blessed Beatles might seem like a crass cash-in, but keyboardist Ramsey Lewis is a helluva classy, exceptionally talented interpreter, and Mother Nature’s Son is mostly fantastic—no matter if it was meant to capitalize on the world’s most popular rock band’s latest opus.

Cadet’s in-house studio wizard Charles Stepney (I highly recommend you especially check out his work with the Rotary Connection) convinced Lewis to record Mother Nature’s Son even though Ramsey was not the biggest Beatles fan. Lewis had covered “And I Love Her,” “Hard Day’s Night,” and “Day Tripper,” but hadn’t been converted into a hardcore Fab Four aficionado. In late 1968, Stepney insisted Lewis listen more deeply to The White Album, and the latter eventually came around—luckily for us.

Bolstered by Lewis’ Moog synthesizer treatments and an orchestra, the soul-jazzed-up instrumental versions on Mother Nature’s Son sound expansive and festooned with baroque ornamentation. Lewis and company blow out Paul McCartney’s spare “Mother Nature’s Son” into a dazzling symphonic tapestry and the unbearable “Rocky Raccoon” is made bearable—see, miracles do happen. John Lennon’s “Julia” is whipped into a creamy, drifting sigh of a piece that soars much higher than his original intimate ballad. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” oozes sophisticated swagger and the drums really bump with what sounds like Bernard Purdie’s funky slaps. Also receiving hot funk injections are “Dear Prudence,” “Cry Baby Cry,” and “Sexy Sadie,” which billow into compositions as grandiose as Isaac Hayes circa Hot Buttered Soul or David Axelrod circa Songs Of Innocence/Experience.

The orchestral confection “Good Night” is a bit too rich for my blood, but “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And Monkey” absolutely scorches; it’s the LP’s most exciting rendition. “Monkey” is among the Beatles’ hardest-rocking tunes, and Lewis transforms it into one of the wildest peak-time party jams the ’60s—a decade famous for its peak-time party jams—has ever witnessed. This version tops the Feelies’, if you can believe it. Album-closer “Blackbird” really elevates and elongates, its melodic contours perfect for jazz virtuosi like Lewis and his mates to extrapolate upon.

Obviously, the raw material of The White Album is mostly superb, but in almost every instance, Lewis and his musicians find ingenious ways to make them even more spectacular—and without a lick of singing. Shame about the absence of “Revolution 9,” though. -Buckley Mayfield  

Relatively Clean Rivers “Relatively Clean Rivers (Phoenix repress; orig. rel. 1975/1976)

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There’s an original copy of Relatively Clean Rivers’ first and only LP on the wall at a Portland record store that’ll cost you $800 (not a typo). It’s been sitting there for at least four or five years… although after this review goes live, probably for not much longer. Why the absurdly high price? I mean, Relatively Clean Rivers is a great record, but is it $800 great? Is any record worth that much? Maybe I’m not the best person to ask, as the most I’ve paid for a single album is $60. But enough about record-collector economics…

The brainchild of Orange County guitarist/vocalist/bassist Phil Pearlman (he also plays flute, “sahz,” harmonica, and synthesizer and is responsible for those crucial psych-rock opuses by Electronic Hole and Beat Of The Earth; his son was also a member of Al Qaeda, but don’t let that distract you from the sonic beauty at hand), Relatively Clean Rivers is a perfect combination of the Grateful Dead at their most concise and mellowest and Popol Vuh at their most accessible, e.g., Letzte Tage – Letzte Nächt. And if you love the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” it’s pretty certain you’ll dig Relatively Clean Rivers.

This music sounds like the archetypal output of stoned-to-the-bone American hippies in the summer of 1969: bathed in a golden glow of gentle acoustic and electric guitar ramble and choogle, bursting with yearning melodies that twang your heart strings with utmost delicacy, and topped with Pearlman’s peace-mongering lyrics (“Hoping we an all get together, the Arabs and the Jews/And melt down weapons into water sprinklers”) and just-soulful-enough, Garcia-soft vocals. Every song’s a blessed wallow in laid-back melodiousness, with just enough rhythmic oomph to get your hips swaying and your upper lip sweating. Front to back, RCR keeps your manageable high at a sensible hum. It sounds best at sundown by the water with your tightest homies (especially “Hello Sunshine”), but these songs can elevate your mood wherever and whenever you happen to be.

In actuality, Relatively Clean Rivers is so great, I can’t fully trust anyone who doesn’t love it like Donald Trump loves attention. But I still wouldn’t pay 800 freakin’ US dollars for it. So thank you, Phoenix Records, for the reasonably priced reissue. -Buckley Mayfield

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

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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

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.

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

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

Harmonia “Music Von Harmonia” (Brain, 1973)

R-884704-1436562528-2597.jpegNormally the tag of “supergroup” isn’t really all that desirable, but in the world of Krautrock the term is appropriate. Harmonia doesn’t disappoint on their debut, mainly because the combined forces of Neu! and Cluster compliment each other so well. While Neu! chiefly produced driving rhythms with occasional ambient soundscapes, Cluster was always a bit closer to Tangerine Dream atmosphere. Coupled together, their minimal styles stayed stripped down but achieved a fuller effect.

Also, “Music Von Harmonia” is in no way harder or more immediate than the groups they derived from; as a recording it isn’t demanding of your attention. Eno, Brian Eno, still liked it precisely because you can put this on in the background. It’s pieces are playful and curious, and it isn’t until a good quarter of the album is through that you hear pumping drums or anything resembling forward movement… Not a negative critique.

Fun for a home listen, attentive or not, on a cold day with coffee or tea. But then you can do the same in your auto or with earbuds for a good commute. Cosmic synth bloops, sanitary guitar licks and electric drums galore! -Wade

Kraftwerk “Electric Cafe” (EMI, 1986)

R-116061-1221146432.jpegSmaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music.

Smaller, kompakt, personal. Non-stop techno-pop tunes on “Electric Cafe;” real earworms. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music altogether, Kraftwerk are in a league of their own, as they typically are.

Industrial rhythms mentioned in early tracks are still prevalent, though more sterilized than “Trans-Europe Express” perhaps? Cleaner, deeper, still sparse. Minimum-Maximum. And non-stop. Techno-pop tunes on Electric Cafe; smaller, kompact, personal. Synthesizer music by Kraftwerk, typically real earworms.

Kraftwerk; smaller, kompact, personal. Minimum Maximum. “Electric Cafe;” industrial rhythms, perhaps cleaner, deeper and sparser than “Trans-Europe Express?” And non-stop! And non-stop!

Typically in a league of their own, Kraftwerk are smaller, kompact, personal on “Electric Cafe.” And non-stop techno-pop tunes are still prevalent; though more sterilized industrial rhythms are cleaner, deeper. And non-stop. Set apart from Eighties synthesizer music. -Wade