Rock

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

Can “Tago Mago” (United Artists, 1971)

Can_-_Tago_MagoOut with Malcolm Mooney and in with Damo Suzuki. At this point, the grooves provided by the most well known forerunners of Krautrock got a whole lot funkier… On “Tago Mago” these composers-turned-avant-rockers set a template that still influences musicians and electronic artists to this day with their strange brew of rhythms and sound collage.

“Paperhouse” and the oft-covered “Mushroom” open the album with more standard pastoral psych numbers and Velvet-drones, but the album turns on it’s head with “Oh Yeah” and “Halleluwah,” tracks that seem to last an eternity with simple relentless grooves and studio trickery (backwards voices, fade ins/outs, on the fly mixing). Mushroom head indeed.

This is Can’s second breath with Damo on the mic, and his style of vocalizing is unique unto himself. A mix of English, German, Japanese and gibberish, it all goes together in seamless coos, belted screams and “uh huh” nonsense. It’s rock, it’s avant, it stands the test of time… And you can dance to much of it. -Wade

The Flesh Eaters “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” (Ruby, 1981)

R-516396-1349396002-2440.jpegThe Flesh Eaters is the name behind one Chris D. Taking his stage name from a 1964 cult film, Chris D. wrote for legendary fanzine Slash in the late ’70s and assembled the first of many Flesh Eaters lineups from heavyweights in the burgeoning L.A. punk scene. After releasing a ravenous EP and heart-ripping debut album, The Flesh Eaters unleashed their era-defining statement…

Originally released in 1981, “A Minute To Pray…” brings together the greatest band in American rock history: Dave Alvin (Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (X) on bass, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on sax, along with Bill Bateman (Blasters) and DJ Bonebrake (X) providing the album’s trademark percussive backbone. Chris D. leads the group like a man possessed. Through a series of grotesque vignettes, his lyrical prowess and indelible growl stand toe-to-toe with the music’s powerful shifts.

From opener “Digging My Grave” (resembling a diesel-charged Magic Band) to the gothic groove of “Divine Horsemen,” each song is its own hairy beast. Inspired by African tribal music, ’60s garage-rock churn and Funhouse-era Stooges swing, A Minute To Pray remains (according to author / archivist Byron Coley) “the best rock record ever recorded.” -Superior Viaduct

Blurt “Beneath Discordant Skies” (Metadrone, 2015)

R-7711828-1447237295-8380.jpegThey’re back, though they never went away, really… Equal parts punk, noise performance and square-one rock racket, Blurt is a band that always has a pulse and it’s always pumping. For those that don’t know, Blurt is usually a trio run by sax player Ted Milton, and has been one of the most inventive groups to grace us from the late Seventies onward.

Normally this would be a capsule review of one record, but I have to touch on their self-titled LP and “Live In Berlin” because they are just so unique. In Manchester they were briefly on Factory and I dare say their records outshine the flashier groups like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the rest from that time pretty easily. Those records don’t sound the least bit dated. And as a live act, they were probably more rough and raucous than The Fall.

So here is the new one, with Ted as an old man, but he STILL sounds as inventive as ever. His playing is a unique spew and can’t be summed up as an Ayler/Ornette imitation. Lyrically he’s great and he always sounds wonderfully garbled. Longtime rhythm guitarist Steve Eagles is here. New drummer David Aylewood pumps along diligently. What more should I say? If you haven’t heard what some would call a post-punk gem, I’d give Blurt some attention. I’d also just call them a heck of a modern band. -Wade