first published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
The concept of this column is simple: to cast light on scenes, music, words and images that are ignored by the handmaidens of capitalist culture. Living people seem to be tired of gagging on the brackish pablum of the known. We would like to offer them access to new nooks. That is all. To start this first installment, here is some bottled screed tossed from the Sonic Youth tour bus.
The 1970s punk rock scene in NYC never paid heed to L.A. And London did not have a clue. There was one record store in 1978/79 NYC on 1st Avenue around 3rd Street that actually had copies of the first West Coast punk rock 7”s. I remember seeing the Dangerhouse 7″‘s of X and Black Randy and wondering why they were even there. They seemed to be from a distant world as opposed to the spotlight punk scenes of NYC and London. I was curious about their weirdness and I bought the X one. I had read how they were the main L.A. punk group who played in a graffiti-drenched dungeon in Hollywood called the Masque. And I bought the Black Randy one cuz the cover was so completely inane, w/ comic book panels referencing a bizarro Hollywood sex-joke juvenilia. It was a repartee I have only just gleaned. And that gleaning is thanks to We Got the Neutron Bomb (Three River Press/Random House) an oral history of the early L.A. punk scene, edited by noted L.A. punk impresario/historian Brendan Mullen. Brendan, a founder of the Masque, also helped Germs drummer Don Bolles edit and prepare Lexicon Devil (Feral House Press ) an oral history of Darby Crash and the Germs. We Got The Neutron Bomb, gaping holes and all, acts as an almost necessary precursive read to Lexicon Devil.
The X single struck me as interesting if only because it was so different than the Ramones/Heartbreakers crunge I heard in the NYC clubs. Its obvious “poetic” sploo was also quite odd in comparison to the St. Marks Church visions of Patti Smith, Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine. And it certainly wasn’t the sex bop of Blondie or the artschool geekage of Talking Heads. And it didn’t have the ground zero allure of primo London punk–Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex et al. The Black Randy 7″ made no sense whatsoever, ‘though the barking retardo chorus of “trouble at the cup! trouble at the cup!” had a genuine other planet punk rock sensibility.
That other planet was L.A. and the only images available of L.A. punk in NYC were from imported issues of Slash and Flipside, magazines found only at Sohozat on West Broadway between Canal and Grand St. (or sometimes at Revenge on 3rd Avenue just south of St. Marks Place) (or at Manic Panic right on St. Marks Place just west of 2nd Avenue). I suppose Bleeker Bob’s, then on Macdougal Street just south of 8th Street, would carry them as well. Bleeker Bob was dependable for carrying any 7″ from the nascent punk rock scene upon its initial availability and had a large collection of ‘zines. Unfortunately, all of these items were behind the counter and you had to brave a request to check any of them out, which would invariably mean that Bob himself would humiliate you w/ assholistic douchebaggery. Plus, there were usually repellant Who-collector clientele farting about the place. These dups would be aggressively collecting “anything on Stiff Records” and wearing Gen X and Joe Jackson badges while still secretly believing that Steely Dan were valid. Bluggh.
The images in the punk ‘zines of L.A. showed bands and fans, all dressed up in ‘77-era leather, bondage and PUNK regalia. This was a style identified w/ the U.K. and no one in NYC bought into it, knowing that it was an extreme and manipulated reaction to Richard Hell, the Ramones, Blondie, Wayne County, Mink Deville et al. To see an American city like L.A., and to a slightly more obscure (yet more typically urban) extent S.F., adopt this identity seemed dopey. At this time, downtown NYC had a developing post-punk community of artists and musicians exhibiting a new radical style of nihilism and producing sex/danger noise/vision. This was “no wave” and it was committed to destroying any strain of rock n roll still alive in punk. To the no wave, the new wave of punk rock was corny. Seeing, hearing and playing atonal guitar monotony in a Broome Street gallery was formidable and it was a formulative experience for my 18-year-old psyche. I’m glad to have been there, all the while thinking that L.A. was nothing but a sea of goofy punk hairdos that weren’t even of their own creation.
I’d see Sid and Stiv Bators skinking around St. Marks and would follow them at a careful distance, wondering how to tell them I was the guitar player Sid should be playing with. The fact that Sid was a heroin dog never really registered to me at the nefarious level it should have. Even though I had near proximity to his thereabouts at the time (as he was always at the same CBGB gigs etc.), the reality of me ever hooking up or communicating w/ him was completely farfetched. Plus, I was conflicted by an incident involving him slashing Patti Smith’s brother’s face w/ a broken beer bottle. But when Sid died it was a landmark event for all of us, and punk CHANGED right then and there. The ideals went into transition: Patti moved to Detroit and married/disappeared. Richard Hell went even more subterranean. The Ramones began to be taken for granted in their perfection. Johnny Rotten made the genius move of experimenting w/ dub-radics and Sid Vicious remained dead. London went dipshit w/ new wave, new romantic and some kind of pirate bullshit, but also had an onslaught of cool Rough Trade inspired art-school punk (Raincoats, Pop Group). NYC went beyond no wave into Bush Tetras/ESG/Eight Eyed Spy grey-scale rhythm music and serious noise composition (Glen Branca, UT, Rhys Chatham, Information). And California continued being punk (but also w/ its own buy-in to dipshit new wave, the examples of which are too wretched to list here). But L.A., by documented proof, particularly The Germs’ (G.I.) LP, X’s Los Angeles LP, the first SST and Dangerhouse label 7″s, the Circle Jerks Group Sex LP and the wild issues of Slash magazine, was also evincing an exciting creative energy identity, unlike the intellectual toe-sniffing of NYC. L.A. was punk rock. But punk rock was over, wasn’t it? The new hardcore kids, romping around Avenue A w/ the Black Flag bars and the Germs’ blue circle on their leather jackets, certainly did not agree. Nor did they care if anyone thought otherwise.
L.A. punk in 1978 was not an affront to a culture-clashed society in a Thatcher-strangled depression. It was a reaction to a mellow Eagles/Jackson Brown “L.A. Sound” and the suburban mom n dad nowhere zone of SoCal. And it was decidedly anti-hippie. Hippie had been the dominant youth culture vanguard for too long. Glam/glitter-rock had never threatened hippie hegemony. If it was seen as anything, it was as a somewhat sex-wild cultural adjunct to hippiedom. But PUNK ROCK, which spun obliquely out of glam/glitter, was hardly foreseen by the potted royalty of the hippie elite. Punk set itself on a crash course to puncture the self-satisfied bloat of the longhair paunches. The punk rock revolution destroyed hippie. From its smoking ruins emerged the sentient force of real rock and roll fun.
Darby Crash and Pat Smear were glam freaks at fourteen and their intention was to play glitter trash without regard to technical ability. By being in young and in Santa Monica (and not in, say, the obscuro Midwest climes of the Electric Eels/Rocket from the Tombs/Dead Boys scene; or “older” post-Stooges freaks, like the Ramones, who Darby and Pat found kinda normal) they were privy to a Kim Fowley/Joan Jett poison zone and were allowed to BECOME, in utter disarray, a group so sparked by not-long-for-this-world genius it still leaves me breathless to think they actually existed. Darby was born the same year as me, 1958, as I realized when I visited his mom’s house in the late ’90s w/ David Markey to interview her on video. (We also video-documented the unshrouded original Masque w/ Don Bolles as guide. All the graffiti from the day the place was chained shut in the ‘70s had remained. It was frozen in time. Supposedly it has since been painted over.) She showed us Darby’s room and her photo book of pix of Darby on his minibike and I knew this kid would’ve been either my worst influence and/or best friend/enemy had I happened to live there. The Masque would’ve transformed me, by sucking me into the orbit of Trudi and the punk habitues of the Plunger Pit. When first visiting L.A. in the early ‘80s I would stalk around the Westside of L.A., where Kim’s parents lived, knowing it was Germs territory (Kim went to UNI High School, the same high school as Darby and Pat). When the Germs Caught In My Eye 12″ was released, I first heard it on Rodney Bingenheimer’s Rodney on the ROQ show. I was profoundly jolted by what I instantly sensed to be one of the most furiously damaged punk-poetic recordings of the 20th Century
The primitive repetition and mono boredom-core of the 1st Germs 7″ “Forming” is as transcendent an American outsider recording as exists, inhabiting the same mythical light as anything Harry Smith might’ve uncovered on a backwoods 78 of the 1920s. When Darby recites his brat-commentary at song’s end, berating-yet-celebrating the Germs’ “effort,” it is at once the most giddily frightening and genuinely liberating experience documented by punk rock youth. When Pat Smear’s slashing downstroke guitar style, Lorna Doom’s zoned-out thump/dump bass and Don Bolles’ stoned record-collector drumming gel into the most panic attack driven punk rock band EVER on “Lexicon Devil” (or any other track they recorded), you hear the future of punk explode through hardcore and then mature into the experimental stylings of everything from Nirvana to Alan Licht. The weird, glam-blasted LEADS Pat overdubs on some of these tracks are utterly twisted and insane in their minimalist sting. Darby’s own little glam-blown vox moves, in and around his manimalist boy-growl, is out and out rock n roll purity. Darby’s lyrics ring more obvious in retrospect now, knowing his inspirations (EST, Scientology, Manson, Bowie), but they are still shocking in the context of what was happening around the Masque at the time (the entire universe for those involved). And this’s a universe we can now confirm as supremely consequential and important to radical rock n roll history (the Germs’ G.I. CD on Slash has all the single trax, the LP, the 12″ and more. It’s essential). This universe was L.A. and it was Darby’s complete kingdom. When he traveled to London, where he was an utter non-celebrity, he returned w/ an Adam Ant Mohican. Drug and alcohol befuddled, he was still just a loose nut kid. He must’ve realized the inability of his world-dominance vision to have any significant impact beyond the L.A. punk scene. He certainly didn’t possess the ability to propagate it in any larger forum.
Darby died the same weekend as Beatle John, which is too cool, even though it was deemed dumbass at the time. I recall picking up the issue of Flipside w/ its all black cover and the tiny words of “darby crash r.i.p” as the lone graphic. I stared at this, thinking how no one in NYC knew anything about this kid who suicided himself as a punk revolutionary. I certainly couldn’t fathom it, ‘though I felt it would be important to me somehow. This significance should flash through anyone immediately upon hearing the classic masterworks the band recorded. Through the wildfire of the U.S. hardcore scene and the shifting importance of the living underground, Darby Crash and the Germs eventually reached their desired mythopoetic level. Darby remains, as himself, and within the Germs’ context, a critical flashpoint in rock n roll. The fact that neither the Slash magazine intelligentsia (Bob Biggs, Claude Bessy, Chris D.) nor the other artists he respected (Exene) fell for his “ideas” (Germs burns and slavish idolatry) must’ve proved very real personal obstacles to his vision of himself as a “leader.” I can only hope he knew, somehow, through his omnipresent fog of immaturity, that these same people, and all the distant acolytes, did and would forever adore him.
* * *
But let it not be said that everything is equally transcendent in the world of punk reading. Two other recent volumes are even more replete w/ holes than Neutron Bomb, although they are also not-without-interest. American Hardcore by Steve Blish (Feral House Press, as above) is a primarily oral history of a certain wing of the American punk scene from 1980-86. There are some interesting bits in the book, but Blish’s bias in favor of the more mediocre elements of the East Coast contingents makes his portrait a bit unbalanced. The layout and presentation of the material are also distractingly lousy, as is the tone of the editorial inserts. Still, some dots get connected here and there are also reprints of some of the worst fliers you’ve ever seen. More graphically interesting is Punk, an oversized coffee table book by Stephen Colegrove and Chris Sullivan (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 161 William St. 16th fl. NYC 10038). Considering that the publisher has done a bunch of poetry books, it’s a bit astounding that no proofreaders caught the mislabeling of photos of such well-known writers as Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky, but I suppose it’s hard to get decent help everywhere these days. That said, Punk’s authors at least try to place punk rock inside the contextual flow of poetry, the Warhol crowd, glitter-rock, and other subterranean flows w/ which it was intimately connected. It’s tellingly a-literate that the authors label Charles Bukowski one of the key figures of the Beat Generation (I bet he’s shitting in his grave just thinking about it), but there are lots of fine pics and some very good information about the early days of the British punk explosion. Great it ain’t, but if you bought it for yr parents you could read it while at their house. If they already have a coffee table, what the hell?
Of course, in most ways male punk rock has been a conceptual dead end for decades. Apart from the Buff Medways you’d have a heck of a time thinking of a guy band that has the punk energy or anti-style of Erase Errata or the Magic Markers (to name but two gal-punk giantesses). But when something like the Bad Times LP (Goner Records PO Box 40566, Memphis TN 38174-0566, http://www.goner-records.com) comes along, it becomes apparent that there’s still some life force lurking in the corpse of male punk proper. The Bad Times were a one-shot project done by three of the Southeast U.S.’s heavier raunch epistemologists–Jay Reatard, King Louie Bankston and Eric Oblivian. This eponymous album documents their sole session, and it is a masterpiece of lo-fi scuzz punk, combining many of the most mind-boiling elements of the bands that gave birth to its participants. There is a kind of American garage punk sloth that sometimes seems to be the exclusive purview of Japanese bands, but the Bad Times wrest control of it back (if only for this album). Their sound is equal parts Guitar Wolf, the Gibson Brothers and Halo of Flies. And when they tear into a cover of Friction’s “Crazy Dream” your eyes will fill w/ tears as they have never been filled before.
What the best U.S. males really offer now, in the place of punk rock, is well documented on a new videotape by the Providence duo, Lightning Bolt. Power of Salad (Load Records, PO Box 35, Providence RI 02901) was recorded at 19 dates during their summer ’01 tour of the States. It shows both the wall-melting power that can be achieved by just a bassist and a drummer (if you’ve never heard Lightning Bolt, imagine a two-man hybrid of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Black Sabbath as interpolated by the Sun City Girls), as well as the sort of venues that you have to play in order to get a gig in Lubbock, TX. The band pile-drives through their sets, tearing the collected bohos in twain, and then talks classic rock theory while motoring to the next show. The vid is put together like a well-crafted pair of trousers – the live stuff, interviews, animated bits and poster shows, all serve utilitarian and aesthetic purposes. But what one really gets from this tape is not a message, it is the rampant desire to see Lightning Bolt live, an experience as loud as it is bracing. They’re due for some new records soon, too, so check the Load website as well (www.loadrecords.com).
The New York combo, Black Dice, are brothers (or at least cousins) to Lightning Bolt. Black Dice may have a different structural feel going for them, but the massiveness of their sonic urk is as undeniable as a slippery foot in the grave. The band have a few odd releases scattered here and there, but their primary vinyl offering thus far is an eponymous LP issued by Catsup Plate Recordings (PO Box 1277, Cooper Station, New York NY 10276, http://www.catsupplate.com). As autonomously frigged as most of the other records on this label, Black Dice begins w/ the sound of music boxes licking turds off Christ’s amp, before devolving into thugly twists of stop/start/stagger/hover dynamism. The band uses standard issue post-core instrumental lingo and propulsion to take things into realms far beyond the ken of the average buzz-cutters. While not as confrontationally artified as the work of Lightning Bolt, this stuff is still magnificently loud and annoying rock-based evil. What a pleasure to enjoy it today! Catsup Plate has also issued a lathe-cut LP by Black Dice member, Eric Copeland. Entitled Heavy Afternoon Buzz/Late at Night a Day Lay, it is an entirely different can of lips. Broken into a pair of sidelong suites, this album is a pure experimental response to the dictates of archaic huzz, generated entirely by an old tone generator and a broken digital delay unit. A variety of apparent loops are blended in shifts, and the whole moves through the air in your head like a buttery soft saw blade, slowly unwinding its way across the room. There are parts that have a weird similarity to some of No Pussyfooting, but let’s assume that’s unintentional.
Through no fault of my own, I find it easy to overlook British bands. Too often they seem to be bedwetters, spellbound by the kind of fashion dictates that are too irksome to even consider, so it’s unusual that a new English band gets many loins stirring around here. That said, the new three song CD by Chicken Legs Weaver, Killing Time (UK Wishbone Records, email: email@example.com) is the kind of thing in which the English should specialize. A trio, the band takes equal parts of Stackwaddy, Dr. Feelgood, Ry Cooder-era Magic Band, and Motor Boys Motor, creating one of the most feverishly destroyed R&B sludge-fests in recent memory. W/ bee-stung guitars, vocals dug up in some gravel pit, and rhythms as thick as those of King Snake Roost, Chicken Legs Weaver are clearly the best band that the UK has produced in a while. Let’s just hope someone notices. Their first single came and went without leaving a scratch anywhere. Pray that this one draws blood.
As unseemly, or even premature, as it might be, it is clear at this juncture that the best beard rock LP of the year has already been cut by Suntanama. The debut album by this offshoot of the No Neck Blues Band, The Suntanama (Drag City, PO Box 476867, Chicago IL 60647), is incredible. It combines all the rural prog, stoner rock references, and electric folk plonking that these clowns have been gobbling for years, coughing them up like a lungful of winning sput in a way that would have made Mallard proud. I used to think that their songs weren’t bluesy enough to really succeed in the sorta rockist terms that interested them. But this album, produced by Neil Hagerty, has more than enough Exiles-style blues stagger to win me over. And dig that hat John Allen’s wearing on the back cover! Stylin’! One of the more overlooked semi-recent spurts from the garden of No Neck is the eponymous picture disk LP by Eastanburia on the Japan Overseas label (6-1-21 Ueshio Tennoji-Ku, Osaka 543 JAPAN). The album was recorded at a session featuring Dave Nuss of No Neck, his wife Rita Ackerman, and Yoshimi and ATR from the Boredoms. Propulsive, percussive, loopy and full of sounds for soothing feral babies, Eastanburia is a full-bore freak fest. One side is like a flux-hunch featuring Amon Duul, Yoko Ono and Langsyne. The other side is a more contemporary electro-babble version of same. Together, especially as part of gorgeous picture disk (art by Rita and Yoshimi, respectively), this is what you’d call a real man-tit. Rita also appears as a member of Angelblood on their second CD, Masses of the Daggers (Capt. Trip, 3-17-14 Minami-koiwa Edogawaku Tokyo133-0056, Japan). As on their debut, this NYC band mixes a sorta screwed-up, heavier Runaways sound w/ black metal inventions, no wave short-outs, and unique, art-scraped sounds. Theirs is as unclassifiable an approach as any you’ll find in the modern box and should become part of all teen gal repertoires. A more recent blo-hink from this quarter is the debut LP by Enos Slaughter, On Sunday (Sound @ One/Conduit Creations, 81-83 Rivington St. #4A, NYC 10002). In concert, Enos has seemed like an evenly-weighted, avant-folk collaboration between No Neck’s Dave Shuford and Sunburned Hand of the Man’s Marc Orleans. This is an instrumental trio album, however, w/ the full-time presence of Carter Thornton and an appearance by the always shifty Keith Connolly. What this means to the average listener is that there’s less overt folk-stuff here, and more squeaking electric guitar and/or alto sax. The album still features plenty of drunkenly weaving banjo/mandolin interaction, but it also harbors more rich (albeit mostly acoustic) aggression than expected. What this would mean to the historical Mr. Slaughter (an outfielder of some note in the middle of the last century) is anyone’s guess. But hey—what isn’t? Carter Thornton also joins No Neck’s Matt Heyner and a host of other belligerent improvisers on the debut LP by IZITITIZ. With Our with Jazz (Sound @ One/Conduit Creations, as above) is a nice slab of new loft grunt. IZITITIZ are a quintet w/ bass, reeds, trumpet, guitar and percussion. These guys are not imbued w/ the superhuman gush of Heyner’s other other combo, Test, but their wending, winding strings of simultaneous improv are lovely. The music moves consistently away from the arms of melodic safety towards a kind of cosmic braying that is very velvety. Thornton’s guitarwork is particularly idiosyncratic. By following the trails of neither Sharrock’s power splange, nor Joe Morris’ easy-plucking (the current prevalent modes) he helps the results glow w/ full spectrum light. Nice.
Kate Village and Wayne Rogers are the proprietors of the Twisted Village concern (12 B Elliot St., Cambridge MA 02138) and have been producing and selling some of the most fully damaged rock guitar skronk since the late ‘80s. Most recently, the pair has been (more or less) responsible for three brutally juiced LPs, all of which deserve studious attention. The smallest is At Home by Wayne (Twisted Village), which is made up of distended guitar experiments, recorded on cassette, amidst a hail of cats. He propels his guitar into a slow-moving shit-storm and leaves it to wrassle its own way free. Which is good. The next smallest is Kate and Wayne’s Quits LP (Twisted Village) which pits the pair’s electric guitars against each other in a truly maniacal way. Anyone who has seen this duo play live will be quite prepared for this onslaught of hair and feedback. Others may be a bit cowed by it. Which is great. Largest of the three is Major Stars’ Distant Effects LP (Squealer, http://www.SquealerMusic.com), which is the third studio album by a quartet that also includes bassist Tom Leonard and drummer Dave Lynch. Unlike the form-evaporating freedom of the other two albums, this one forces the frenetic string gawp into semi-graspable rock-shaped molds. Even on the 14 minute plus “Elephant”, the rhythm section keeps all the gremlins flinching and moving. There are even touches here that refer to the band’s well known fondness for English space-folk, although the over-riding feel is one of mass and volume. Which is fantastic. But where is Kate’s solo album?
A wonderfully opaque piece of improvisation has been released on the intriguing Fringes label (c/o Giuseppe Telasi, via A. Volta 6, 20052 Monza Italy). It is an LP, The Title Is Postura, performed by soprano saxophonist Alessandro Bosetti and three double bassists: Peter Kowald, Luigi Musso and Astrid Weins. Each of these players is known for (among other things) associations w/ electronics improvisers, and there is indeed some crackling in the air while this thing plays, even though the sources are all acoustic. Bosetti’s sax moves in tight, squealing circles, while the double basses emit scrambling arco noise cascades and dizzyingly plonked pizzicato cluster-gropes. There are passages where things are much more “standard” sounding than this, natch, but the persistence of the line-up’s bottom-feeding prerogative gives everything a goddamn whale-like beauty. Thick globules of low lunar notes will swim right up your nostrils and stay there. So widen up, now!
Another swell Italian label is Qbico (http://members.planet.it/freewww/qbic). They have released five LPs thus far and each one is a little bit stranger than the last. Or so it seems. The most recent two are For the Love of… by Evan Parker and Frank Perry, and 1st Trip by Baroque Bordello. Parker and Perry are, of course, heavyweights from the British improvising community. Although in recent years Perry’s percussion work has often skirted the edges of so-called “new age music,” his best known early work was as a member of Keith Tippett’s incredible collective, Ovary Lodge. Parker, one of the founders of the Incus label (among other things) is one of the most highly respected saxophone-logicians to have emerged from the Old World. This duo album was recorded in ’72 and has crunchy sonic textures, perhaps most easily comparable to King Crimson’s Earthbound. According to the liner notes, the concert was supposed to be a trio date w/ Derek Bailey on guitar, but power problems forced Evan and Frank to play as a duo. Perry’s work here is wildly dynamic. He moves through his kit in ways that recall the off-balance surgery of Jamie Muir. Parker’s soprano segments are also ripe, displaying a firm mastery of clucking snake symbolism. By the time the pair really get down for the bongos and filigree finale, you’ll be standing on your chair shouting. 1st Trip is the second volume of Qbico’s vinylization of early cassettes released by Makoto Kawabata, of Acid Mothers Temple fame. This one reissues a trio session, recorded in ’79 w/ one side of grody homemade instrument rambling, and another of electronic swooshing, supposedly recorded as a soundtrack to aerobics. The homemade stuff sounds like a slow motion riot in a glass rack behind a bar, the electronic part is more like being trapped inside some horrible broken wind-up doll. Together, these pieces, as you might imagine, form a unique arch of aural delight. Can’t wait for the label’s next smut.
Conrad Schnitzler is one of the more perplexing of the many legendary figures associated w/ the Krautrock underground. Yeah, he was in the original versions of both Tangerine Dream and Kluster, and he recorded some very vaunted solo LPs, but the only ones that have ever been available around here just didn’t sound very interesting. As a consequence, it has always kinda tough to accurately assess his rep and the hype surrounding it. Much of his legend, it was reported, rested upon the work contained on his second and third solo LPs, Rot (Red) and Blau (Blue). Having searched for many years, I can attest that original copies of these records never come on the market. Never. So it was pretty amazing to hear that they were both about to get a legit reissue from Germany’s premier mystery label, Very Good Records (verygoodrecords.de). Better still, both albums are as whacked as their reputations contend. Rot, from 1972, uses crude synthesizer technology for strange combinations of continued tones and effectoid spronging. It’s quite great and unlike anything else from the era. Blau uses the same combinations of loops, sequences and blaps, but in a different way, suggesting little fields of percussion robots, clackingly falling over in endless cascades. It’s a great great sound and these albums are highly recommended to anyone w/ even the merest interest in electronic kuck or the lineage of German undergroundism.
Connie Acher’s first couple of LPs were a bit loose on their moorings. Ms. Acher’s mode was definitely folkish, but there was a persistent outsider-flange that made her work redolent of such genuine odd socks as Jandek and Leslie Q. On her third LP, For the Love of It (Flipped Out, PO Box 8656, Albany NY 12208), Connie is joined by Blind Drunk John, and the resulting album is far more trad than anyone might’ve dared dream. True, a song like “Leaping Frogs” sounds more like an underwater version of “Dock of the Bay” than it does a Bonnie Raitt demo or something, but much of the material here has the same kinda boozy swing that propelled the best Minnesota folk-blues releases of the ‘60s and ‘70s. How intentional this might be is purely speculative, but this would be an easy record to recommend to even the stodgiest turd on the block. Its kilter is surely off, and this becomes more apparent the more closely you listen, but the general gestalt is so damn pleasant you’re in for a treat no matter how square you happen to be.
Since Graham Lambkin fled England, and the snug embrace of the Shadow Ring, he has been relatively quiet. Thus, it was w/ great pleasure that we note a solo LP under Graham’s name, Poem (For Voice & Tape) (Kye Recordings, c/o Swill Radio, P.O. Box 9401, North Amherst, MA 01059-9401). The music on the album seems to be made of two elements–the first is a very slowed-down recording of a human voice, the second is the sound of a shower. This may seem to be a rigid tactical approach, but it is far less monochromatic than you might suppose, and as the album plays it transforms the limited horizons of its source material into a full, open palette. The temporal dislocation of the primary vocal, mixed w/ the real time playback of the water-based improvisation, connects to cause a shift in perceptual reality if the listener pays enough attention. Actually, the same thing can happen if you drift off, so don’t be afraid to snooze. This is a lovely, unexpected direction for Graham to turn his devotion to the avant-bedroom. Let’s hope he continues to move away from the known, at a more goodly pace.
The most curious Australian group (since the demise of Mu Mesons, anyway) is probably the Menstruation Sisters and it’s just dandy that their long-promised LP, Dead at Slug’s (Menlo Park Revordings, PO Box 1652, Cooper Station, NYC 10276-1652) is finally here. A hard-to-fathom mess of concentrated noise, it fully delivers on the promise of the Sisters’ long ago triple-7” set. The musical approach on Slug’s is a bit more rock-like than it was on that triple pack (or on the albums of the Sisters’ precursor band, Phlegm). Indeed, everybody here romps along like there’s a goddamn rodeo in town, acting at times as though what they were doing was some sorta classic rock fiesta, when in fact it sounds like they’re being killed inside a big steel barrel or something. There’s not a whole helluva lot of info w/ the record, so you can’t really tell when, where or w/ whom it was recorded, but if you like the mystery of sobbing butter, you’ll be wowed by this one. There’s also a new solo LP by the best-known member of the Sisters, Oren Ambarchi. Besides his crazy free-rock improv work, Oren also records stuff w/ “serious” new music ensembles, as well as in techno-electronic formats, and also on solo guitar. His new 2 LP set, Suspension (Staubgold, Agrippinaufer 6, 50678 Koln, Germany) is ostensibly one of his guitar records, although there’s a side of remixes by Jim o’Rourke, Phil Niblock, Michael J. Schumacher and others. And really, even the non-remixed stuff sounds whole lot less like guitar than it does electronic tone-field-work. Big globs of sound emerge, cluster and disperse, leaving faint ghost-clouds trembling in their wake. Fans of hot pickin’ beware!
Just arriving in the last few moments is a new CD by Paul Flaherty, Greg Kelley and Chris Corsano, entitled Sannyasi (Wet Paint Music, PO Box 1024, Manchester CT 06045). Flaherty is a long time improvising shadow giant, whose magnificent reed work stretches back decades. Kelley is a trumpeter best known for his insanely quiet improvisations w/ nmperign (a Boston-based collective w/ a coupla great disks on Twisted Village) as well as appearances in a variety of other New England new music contexts. Corsano is one of the best drummers of his generation. He has recorded w/ Flaherty before, and has played in all kindsa post-core and free jazz units across the upper East Coast. Sannyasi is the first recording of these three as a specific trio, but its shows high levels of cross-neural communication, and a wonderful empathetic gush of emotive pan-substantiation. Everybody plays like crazy (even Kelley, who is known for a certain tonal reserve) and the level of un-cliched forward motion could not be higher. There are tons of freak-moves, plugged in amidst a kinda small-group Coleman/Cherry vibe, and everyone is clearly lunging for the gold key hanging from the ring of the o-mind. But they don’t get in each other’s way while doing it. High energy improvisation rarely blends chaos and good manners in so sumptuously yearning a way. None of these guys has ever made a false move that I’m aware of, and this new album is a wonderful addition to the discographies of three great players.
On a completely different brain track, we find the new LP by Norway’s kings of freakbeat sweetness, the Dipsomaniacs. Stethoscopic Notion (Apartment Records, Sandakervn. 11/2, 0473 Oslo, Norway) is the band’s fourth album (the CD version was released by Camera Obscura Records, PO Box 5069, Burnley VIC 3121 Australia). Originally a solo project of Oyvind Holm, the Dipsomaniacs have matured into a real band – a fully cooperative quartet, whose music lives in the real world as well as in the studio. This new album is very evolved in most relevant pop terms. Like recent work from Guided By Voices, it folds the textures of pure UK ‘60s-ism back into the mash that was developed in its wake by bands like Big Star, Runt, and others. It’s not like the album is full of specific cops or anything, but the vibe is rich, full and quivery–a smoosh of wonderful influences, blended in new ways by four guys whose native tongue is not easily deciphered. To hear them ladle up something that reminds me of everything from Tyrannosaurus Rex to the Flying Burrito Brothers, without even one lyrical aside about smoked fish, is a triumph of some sort.
In an archival perusal of forgotten releases, we came across two Ed Sanders CDs released by the Olufsen label (Uraniavej 12, 1875 Frederiksberg C, Denmark) that seemed to have escaped everyone’s radar eyes. The earlier of the two is 1988’s Songs in Ancient Greek, the more recent, 1996’s American Bard. Sanders is, of course, one of America’s premier poetic movers. He founded the Fugs, ran the Peace Eye Bookstore, edited Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, still publishes The Woodstock Times, and has written a groaning shelfload of books that range from fiction to history to poetry most glorious. On these two albums Ed is in fine form. Songs combines English translations of Hellenic texts and lyrics sung in the original Greek. American Bard surveys Sander’s career, including a reprise of the Fugs’ classic, “Morning Morning”, as well as setting a variety of his more recent work to music. The accompaniment is similar to that on the Fugs’ reunion albums, which some have criticized as sounding “too contemporary.” Steadier hands have heard this stuff for what it is–gasps of eternal beauty from across the great divide. Whether or not the keyboards sometimes sound like the Eurythmics is besides the point. Sanders is one of the living treasures of American literature. He has internalized the work of everyone from Sappho to Ginsberg and has combined it all into a wonderful hymn to the possibilities of ecstatic existence. These two CDs are great additions to his canon and should be known.
One of Sanders’ still active contemporaries is Charles Plymell, a writer, publisher, collage-artist and hooligan. Plymell’s writing is only fitfully available. He has a tendency to show up most often as a footnote to history–he printed the first edition of Robert Crumb’s Zap, for instance. But Charley is a great stylist and thinker, and there have just been a few good little publications of his work. One is Reefer Madness in the Age of Apostasy (Butcher Shop Press, 529 Beach 132st, Rockaway Beach NY 11694), a nice polemical booklet by this seen-it-all hipster, dealing w/ the idiocy of the so-called war on drugs. Plymell hits all the right notes and uses his experiences in the hip communities of the latter part of the 20th Century, as well as his years teaching prisoners, to illustrate his points. You’ll nod yr head so fiercely while reading this that spit will fly all over the place, so be careful. And be sure to order an extra copy to give to one of the young people in yr life. They could definitely stand to read his opinions. Plymell has also been the subject of a great series of broadside pamphlets from 12 Gauge Press (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). The latest is called Song for Neal Cassady, and it has a great cover pic of Charley and Neal on the street in San Francisco in 1963. The poem is equally reet–retelling the legend of Dean Moriarty (and its aftermath) in couplets and triplets whose viewpoints and rhythms are far different than Kerouac’s (the primary bard of Cassady’s saga). Plymell is one of the last of his breed—a real American outlaw who breathes life into his culture. Check him out.
Another poet worth investigating is Gerald Locklin, a California-based writer who has been going at it for decades without too much acclaim outside the community. His latest title is a small book called The Mystical Exercycle (The Chuckwagon, 9 Robandy Rd., Andover MA 01810) and it’s broken into two parts. The first is poetry about specific paintings, reflections on content, technique, history, or just something serendipitous that was ignited while viewing canvas. The second batch is of general poems, done in Locklin’s trademark style, plain-spoken and dealing w/ matters of the day and/or eternity. Locklin’s work makes you recall how Southern Californian in nature the work of his friend, Charles Bukowski, was. But Locklin’s poems are usually less rancorous than Buk’s. He’s easy to read, easy to enjoy, and should be approached by you. Also very easy-to-take is the poetry of Lynne Savitt. Her latest collection is The Transport of Grandma’s Yearning Vibrator (Myshkin Press. 2646A Riverside Dr., Wantagh NY 11793) and it’s her best yet–funny, sexy, hot-blooded words and images from a writer whose work embraces the eternal now better than anyone’s. Ms. Savitt’s poetry has always been about the passage of meat through time and space. This new book combines the past, present and future of meat in a wonderful way. It’s sentimental but not mawkish, and built w/ elegance and power. Great stuff.
If yr attention span is too short to endure whole, entire books, there are some good mags out there that might tickle yr fancy. First, in every way, is Shuffle Boil (Listening Chamber, 1605 Berkeley Way, Berkeley CA 94703). Edited by David Meltzer and Steve Dickson, it is “a magazine of poets and music.” There’s writing about music (Tosh Berman on Joe Meek, George Herms on Sonny Stitt), there’s writing by musicians (Larry Ochs, Steve Lacy), there’s all kindsa great shit—poetry, prose, liner notes, history, interviews, the works. The debut issue is fantastic and more should be along soon. Another good new music mag is 50 Miles of Elbow Room (105 Luquer St. #10, Brooklyn NY 11231). Edited by Adam Lore, the second issue has excellent pieces on Louis Moholo (an interview by William Parker), Otha Turner, the late June Tyson, and others. It’s a well-stirred blend of loft jazz and country blues and beyond. And finally here is issue #16 of the always great Feminist Baseball (c/o Jeff Smith, PO Box 9609, Seattle WA 98109). This one has an excellent Joe Piecuch piece on the time he spent w/ John Fahey in Salem, lots of good stuff about weird films (from Godard to splatter), a worthy review section and blather galore. Also fresh is issue #8 of Mineshaft (16 Johnson Pasture Rd., Guilford VT 05301), edited by Everett Rand, and featuring a very good selection of writing and art by Robert Crumb, Darlene Fife and Robert Head (these latter two were the drivers of the legendary underground newspaper NoLa Express), Tommy Trantino, Irving Stettner, and various others from the bowels of the surrealist city and the heights of the visionary mountain top. Rand puts together a highly literate and eclectic mag that’s always fun to read. And it’s safe to say that Mineshaft models itself after Irving Stettner’s Stroker (4-2-6 Chiyoda, Honjo City, Saitama, 367-0054 Japan), which is now up to issue 73. Stettner is an underground legend, who was first noted for his friendship w/ Henry Miller, and there is still plenty of Miller in Stroker–pieces on Japanese translations, a reprinted Miller postcard, as well as prose, poetry and visual work that shine w/ a weird mix of academic thought and street-level passion. It’s a splendid mix. And so are you.
If you have something you think should be considered for future editions of Bull Tongue, you would be well advised to send two copies of whatever it is to: PO Box 627, Northampton MA 01061 USA.