Rock

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

Popol Vuh “Hosianna Mantra” (Pilz, 1972)

MI0002982480Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit’s 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun’s haunting voice hovering above the arrangements.

As the album’s title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On “Kyrie” droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit’s spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun’s celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith.

Indeed, Fricke called this album a “mass for the heart” and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy “Abschied” and the gossamer-fragile “Segnung,” which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a “cosmic convalescent home” — an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it. -Wilson

Mi Ami “Watersports” (Quarterstick, 2009)

homepage_large.a4031480Mi Ami have an ability to execute aural peaks and valleys like few pop groups have ever known how to do. Within each individual song is a crescendo, from the whispered and paranoid panting of Martin-McCormick and subtle metal beating from Palermo, to a racket of all the brutal parts looking each other in the eye and screaming. Just as quickly, though, they can drop it down and develop a groove, usually with the assistance of the bass, that envelops one’s sense of rhythm, all-encompassing.

A brilliant example of this is the two-song assault of “The Man In Your House” and “New Guitar.” “The Man In Your House” begins understated and disconcerting; an effects-laden guitar line covers the track in an odd, quiet blanket. From there, Martin-McCormick’s whispers grow to shouts of sex and sadness, while his guitar screeches and wail. The suspense grows as the track gets louder, and then it immediately segues into “New Guitar,” a jittery, stilted statement of seemingly nothing, carried out with Martin-McCormick’s competent hands manhandling and tearing at his guitar. The song’s beginning is a brilliant resolution to the song before it, and once this primal energy beams out, the trio jumps back four steps and carries out a mid-tempo groove, complete with a bass line rooted in funk and dub.

So much of Watersports’ appeal is in its embrace of the physical, but the album’s final third is a dirge into the mental abyss. Indeed, the album consists almost entirely of the members going ballistic on their respective parts, but this happens so sparingly, if at all, in the final two tracks. “White Wife,” a manifesto towards sincerity and honesty, is quiet, sad, and slow. Here, the trio is exploring their sonic workspace in a very profound way: not through flexing their chops, but through creating space. The song, probably the most cerebral track on the album, dips and undulates until you get to “Peacetalks/Downer,” which, like the best of shoegaze music, creates volume in lines that should be quiet. It all builds without changing, until the album slowly fades into oblivion.-Tyler

Amon Düül II “Wolf City” (United Artists, 1972)

Wolfcity1The most noticeable difference between this 1972 release and classic albums like Phallus Dei (1969), Yeti (1970), and Tanz der Lemminge (1971) is the shift from lengthy “freak outs” to shorter pieces that emphasize melody and harmony. In fact, most of the seven pieces on Wolf City are in the 3-6 minute range with only Surrounded by Stars reaching 8 minutes in length.

I for one do not mind the change at all because it turns out that Amon Duul II was just as good at writing shorter pieces as they were at writing the longer pieces. The major selling point for me on Wolf City is the haunting, drifting melodies that are developed on this album – they are simply wonderful and make me forget the pieces are only a few minutes long. Furthermore, the interesting thing (and this is really clever) is that spacey, instrumental preludes and interludes are worked in here and there to create the illusion of a larger piece. The use of loads of synthesizers does not hurt either.

All in all, this is a very good album that is recommended along with Carnival in Babylon (1972) which is somewhat similar. -Jeffery

Jimi Hendrix “Midnight Lightning” (Columbia, 1975)

JHMidniteLiteSo this is interesting… The idea of a rock producer bringing in session dudes to fill out the sound on collected, unreleased recordings of a dead man’s tapes. The sixth album released after Hendrix’s death, these sessions have been tampered with after the fact by Alan Douglass, a record producer who controversially turned down Hendrix’s original accompanists and brought in his own talent.

These days the idea of remixing and retrofitting old material seems like a non-issue. And it has to be said that the work presented here is strong; it doesn’t smell like a quick cash-in by Douglass at all. Original bass and drums (with only one unmolested Mitch Mitchell track) disappear… and new guitar overdubs are placed as well! But these additions don’t take away from Hendrix’s lead, hardly fiddled with, only on demos where his repeated phrases were obviously unintentional. In a way I’m reminded of Teo Marceo’s album work for Miles Davis, but Miles was alive then and agreed with his studio ideas. Depending on what your opinion may be on his work, it may reflect about what you’d think of the Douglass edits. Is it so wrong to string such strong performances together in a studio? Or would you rather have the demos with some obvious blemishes? Serious questions when the music created originally needed so little studio tampering. These people were geniuses without it.

But then maybe Douglass was a fitting studio-head, the one able to handle such bold work with a legend’s material. He saw an opportunity to wrap up loose ends and executed it how he saw fit. The results are striking and worth hearing, especially when you hear the power of “Machine Gun” and the rest of side two to follow. It’s a trick, but a good one. -Wade

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

220px-MeatPuppets_-_UpOnTheSunFrom Simon Reynolds:

One of the strangest, fastest mutational odd-yseys taken by a single band, from the thrashadelic punk of the debut through the countrypunk furore and dewdrops-on-cobweb delicacy of Meat Puppets II to Up On the Sun ‘s brutal plangency and frenetic speedfunk (a manic, flashing secateur snip’n’clip, a dragon-fly shimmer like sunbeams chasing each other through your veins, a peyote-and-desert-sun crazed Talking Heads with Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine as dueling lead guitarists). Awesome.

Say no more? By “Up On The Sun” the Puppets had gone away from breakneck hardcore speed and cooled down, guitar work improving to the point of jam band virtuosity, still keeping tracks within relative rock brevity. I can’t help but mention that SST insider Joe Carducci saw a period between albums where they resembled Steppenwolf and he (we) have yet to hear that phase of their career on recording.

Until then, third effort “Up On The Sun” remains their strongest stud in their discography, before they started playing around with drum machines you know… Unswinging funk bass with perfectly meshed frantic-sounding guitarwork, and a drummer that keeps time because someone had to keep their feet on the ground. And oh yeah, they are earnest and joyful. -Wade

Blue Cheer “Vincebus Eruptum” (Philips, 1968)

BlueCheerVincebusEruptumMade up of blues covers half this album may be, but what a new way they had to warp and distort such standards! Key words there, as Blue Cheer were pioneers of the Metal genre we all have come to associate with the monoliths… Zeppelin and Sabbath, somewhere, they stand in between.

A little ways into opener “Summertime Blues” you get a confirmation that yes, things will be forever different, as a break becomes filled with masochistic riffs unheard prior. On “Rock Me Baby” the use of guitar distortion reaches new heights, and the interplay on “Doctor Please” hits you like scorched earth, molten lava running and tumbling downhill.

More blues covers and an original number follow, but the reinvention heard here is absolutely notable. When you hear some metallers discussing roots, this will probably be one album cited in conversation. -Wade

Iron Butterfly “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (Atco, 1968)

In-A-Gadda-Da-VidaIron – Symbolic of something “heavy,” as in sound.

Butterfly – Light, appealing and versatile… an object that can be used freely in the imagination.

On the back of their LP sleeve is this statement, and it’s fitting for a group that shows their varying chops on either side. Their particular brand of psychedelic rock on side one works, but it does seem to allude that a change in style was coming. Erik Brann’s vocals are deep and don’t really bring flowers to mind, even during the groups more flourishing numbers. Organ sounds rip holes through the mix and give a slight ominous tone to everything. Late bassist Philip Taylor Kramer (mysteriously found dead in a car at the bottom of a ravine) gave a warm tone that brings Grand Funk to mind. (EDIT: Kramer joined after the recording of I-A-G-D-V, but was most know for it in performance.)

Side one has moments of beauty with “My Mirage” and “Termination” but it’s the all-encompassing title track that really gives Iron Butterfly their claim to fame. A heavy opening with an unforgettable riff, it later turns into a psychedelic wind tunnel of driving instrumentals; guitar, drum, bass and organ-led mayhem to serenity. Along with Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly are one of those groups that show interesting tangents from garage and psych to the world of heavy. -Wade

The Descendents “Milo Goes To College” (New Alliance, 1982)

SST142_thumbNo other punk band to my knowledge has had their style emulated by hordes of lesser groups than The Descendents. But who could blame those groups for trying? Once they chugged a pot of coffee and played out this great molding of melody and speed set with “Milo Goes To College,” they probably didn’t have a choice…

Hearing their “Ride The Wild / Hectic World” single and jumping into this album can be startling. A capable rock band before, once they brandished new vocalist Milo and went hardcore they were just too damn good to be entry level punk hop-ons… They led the pack. And Milo was their ace in the hole, a wholly new style of rock vocalist; one that wasn’t concerned with having sex, scoring drugs or looking cool. And he rains fire on those that do, severing many a rock cliché. “I’m Not A Loser,” “Tony Age,” “Hope,” “Marriage” and “Bikeage” show that this group is 1) a powerhouse instrumentally and 2) ready to wreck the glamorized foundations of rock culture, with their own raw power.

Most songs don’t make it to the two-minute mark but each one has so many great changes and twists that none are alike, and each one has meat on it. Many of the subjects covered from rent to girls to love to fashion to drugs are standard pop punk material now, but The Descendents crammed it all in to this one, heavy, positive tumult. Play often and you’ll feel better, really. -Wade