first published in Arthur No. 18 (September, 2005)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
Beautiful (in every which way) is the debut LP by Knoxville, Tennessee’s Picks & Lighters. TVA/Starvation (Living Room). The fact that it came out in 1997 does not detract from its glory one jot. A trio at the time of this recording, two guitars and one drum sullenly slam into each other with the lo-fidelity magnificence that so many strive for, but so few achieve. Rambling in a way that is almost incoherent at times, this is music made by humans and you’re never allowed to forget that for a second. It also has a cover that will make you slap your forehead and say ‘WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?’ Their new, eponymous, Picks & Lighters CD (no label) shows off the band’s latest incarnation. Expanded and regrouped, they make sounds that range all over the place, from further scum-blues dirt-investigations to disabled semi-acoustic ramblings that move around the sofa like Jandek at sleepytime. It’s all bitchen and comes with the highest commendations.
The great Tom Carter (Charalambides, etc.) pops up on a coupla fine fine disks this time around. The eponymous debut LP by Zaika (Eclipse) documents a duo project he does with Marcia Bassett (Double Leopards, etc.) and it’s truly puce. Two guitars shimmer and duck under each others’ beams with the lazy and luminous grace of twin zebras. It’s quite a show, and a beautiful production by every measure. Tom is also a member of a wild instrumental quartet called The Friday Group. Their eponymous debut LP (Beta Lactam) is a stunning ride through mountains of sustained-string/key blather. Filled with monumental creations of feedback and drone that stretch and swoop into imaginary sunsets, The Friday Groupi is an ethereal charmer. Prog rockers will dig its latter skysaw phrases the most! And as it’s part of Beta Lactam’s Records Are Not for Baking subscription series, it is accompanied (for subscribers anyway) by an additional picture disk 12”. On the bonus record, the Friday Group add percussion, which gives one side of this set the feel of Popul Vuh at their most tranced out. Brilliant stuff. Tom’s partner in Charalambides, Christina Carter, also has a comely new release. It’s the latest in My Cat Is an Alien’s set of split LPs (Opax). The MCIAA side features those feckless Italian brothers in their most masterful space mode—burbling like the sons of Tangerine Dream and then some. Christina’s side is a duo improvisation with Andrew MacGregor (aka Gown) and is really a kinda new thing for her, at least in compositional terms. She focuses a lot on small repeated figures (almost like Tara Burke in Fursaxa) while Andrew does some vocal moaning of his own, and splashes out small spouts of acoustic guitar. Packed in another cheery hand-painted cover, this is one for the archives.
A most valuable read can be had by picking up Sun Ra: The Immeasurable Equation, compiled by James L. Wolf and Harmut Geerken (Waitawhile). This hardcover collects pretty much every bit of poetry and prose that the great Ra scribed. Which means it’s no longer necessary to try and track down all the obscure pamphlets in which they originally appeared. Ra’s own material is appended by a buncha good (‘though sometimes impenetrable) critical and historical essays. Plus, there are some very swank snapshots. It’d be a dang nice present for someone special. Maybe even yourself!
The peripatetic Richard Youngs has a new duo LP with Andrew Paine, although it’s not being released under the band name Ilk (which is what we thought they called their duo). Regardless, Mauve Dawn (Fusetron) is a titillating space-out assemblage of keys and phases and tones that stretch from here to Venus. This one woulda nailed me to my dorm bed in ’74 or so, since it has a vibe that (in parts) reminds me of nothing other than the Gong tracks on the second Greasy Truckers compilation (which must be one of the great dorm-bed-nailers of all time). And hey—it still sounds pretty damn piercing now. Youngs has another excellent duo LP, Beating Stars (HP Cycle), he did with Alexander Neilson. This one’s a little bit noisier than the other, but it still fits into a virtual space-groaner bag. And the opening track—a killer noise-folk version of the traditional “Rolling in the Dew”—is guaranteed to slay anyone who hears it.
L.A.’s Trinie Dalton sent us a couple of very fucked up books she did over the past whenever, and they both have a very evil whiff of magnificence. Touch of Class is a disturbed visual rumination on the world of unicornology, including a very wild critical essay of the Eno’s early works, viewed from a unicornly perspective. Yikes! The other is Rodenta, which is a collection of art and essays about rodents as pets and/or pests. The crazy mix of low-art/high-art vibes here is pretty damn invigorating.
Stone classic punk rock action on Furthur, the debut LP by Chicago’s Vee Dee (Criminal IQ). You can hear moves nipped from The Nomads, the Misfits, Radio Birdman and other masters of in-your-face guitar snarl. Especially nice is the fact that they mix their aggression with lyrics that sometimes lean in a kinda freakbeat direction. Cool. More totally ace punk-shit arrives via the archival Karate Party LP, Black Helicopter (SS). This Sacramento band had only a small amount of stuff released in their lifetime, but their approach made a vast impression on the nascent A-Frames. Helicopter collects their known reelases and throws in a sweet load of previously unheard material, all of it in stripped down UK-DIY/Urinals/Middle Class chopper mode. Even the Devo cover. Honest. It’s a totally solid listening and head-frogging experience and should be “had” by “all.” Fave leftfield punk slab this outing must be Human Eye’s self-titled debut LP (In the Red). There seem to have been about a thousand people in the band, but the sound is basic, whipped quartet-scum-punk (Electric Eels style) with primitive art-damage hallmarks. These Detroiters even manage to toss some keyboard munge into the mix without making it sounds like revo-new-wave-puke. Nice choppers!
Klyd Watkins is not a poet we recall running into before, although we surely have, since he was involved in most of the Poetry Out Loud LPs. Anyway, he has a sweet new book of poems, 5 Speed (The Temple), that is about nature and desire and waiting around and going places and nipples and sortsa other stuff. His rhythms are very natural, his images have a soft, strong humor to them, and his voice is incredibly becoming. Seems like he has a buncha other stuff out as well. If you don’t check it out, we will. The publisher of 5 Speed is the great poet, Charles Potts. And there is a new splendiferous collection of his out as well. Kiot (Blue Begonia) is a selection of poems from ’63 to ’77 and includes a buncha (what we feel) is the most mind-battering work by this brilliant writer. The poems are arranged by the places in which they were writ, and the travelogue they present will allow you to roam across the belly of an underground (and of a natural world) that no longer exists. All Potts’ books are essential, but this one would make an excellent introduction for anyone. Even babies!
The Keep America Mellow LP by Montana’s Ex-Cocaine (Killertree) is one of the season’s more fascinating finds. The duo (guitars, some drums, some voices) is led by a long-time running mate of John Olson, and their sound is a unique chunk of basement invention. Parts of it are extendo-jam string-weaving, other parts are reminiscent of Robert Pollard’s dustiest early experiments, still others are some of the sweetest bongo/guitar-raunch duets you’ll ever hear. It’s very excellent to think that this was made in Montana (for some reason), and we can’t wait to hear more.
Boston guitarist Wayne Rogers (Crystalized Movements, Vermonster, BORB, Magic Hour, Major Stars) has a new solo LP out. It’s called Blues-Ul Albi (Twisted Village) and it’s one of his most blazing inventions in a while. Unconstrained by anyone else’s opinion, Wayne lays down a mix of fully-blown guitar-psych-vom-spew, delicately Angloid songs, his own skewed sorta rock-maxism. For listeners fully cognizant of the underground’s width and depth, Wayne has been a huge presence for a decade and a half. So it’s weird to think that most people imagine him as a marginal figure (if at all). Check out this new one, and make some goddamn room for a champ. Okay? Meanwhile Australain guitar player/artist Marco Fursinato (whose series of “Free” singles is one of the greatest art/noise concept-packages ever) has a new, completely fucked batch of records. Synaesthesia Edition (Synaesethesia) is a group of four LPs, available only as a set. The LPs don’t really have any music, but they’re pressed with representative cuts of concentric-groove drawings that Marco did. So you could play them, I guess, much in the style of so many classic anti-records. I haven’t tried yet, but they look great, and disk 4, in particular, looks like it might be fun to hear the next time I find a cheap turntable. Whee! Another solo guitar record of note is Paul Metzger’s more-or-less untitled LP (Mutant Music). Paul is a member of Minneapolis’ great TVBC, but this record is a set of acoustic rhubard-gargles on a homemade fretless guitar. There’s enough Mideastern strangeness and unusual attack stub-dangling that you might imagine you were listening to a Rick Bishop album or something. But you’re not. The name is PAUL METZGER. Now you know.
New issue of Paper Rodeo just arrived and it is as toxically lush as you might expect. For anyone who doesn’t know it, PR is an amazing Rhode Island graphic newspaper filled with post-ratty drawings and comix, all of which convey the insane vibe of that city’s wildest bands. If you need a soundtrack (or even eyetrack, if you’re an ADD type) we suggest using the new Pick a Winner comp (Load), which is a very nuts collection of music and vids by folks associated with the Providence scene by hook or by crook.If you haven’t visited it, do. Soon. Similar, in some way, is Rotkop, a small magazine that combines comix with collages and found images in a way that is pretty fucked up. The issue I have before me now seems to have something of a seawater theme, and that aspect of life is explored by a wide variety of largely European artists in ways that are sure to make your legs quiver. Another eye feast is Modern Arf (Fantagraphics), edited by Craig Yoe. This oversized paperback anthology explores the place where comic art meets high art in a variety of ways, all of which are great to look at. There’s a fantastic chapter on Dali’s cartoon work and influence on cartoons, a brilliant collection of pieces about the artist/model relationship, stuff about cartoonists’ visions of hell and plenty more. Not quite like any anthology we’ve seen before, and well worth peeks.
Another charming visual cocktail is Chronicles Vol. 1 (Nieves) by Kim Gordon. It functions both as an artist’s book and a scrapbook of photo images of Kimberly through the years, so you can enjoy it equally be you prole or connoisseur! Handy! The first 100 copies also come with a copy of something for the girl with everything #1, which is the first bound evidence of Thurston Moore’s post-glam collage work. Sweet! Mr. Moore’s cassette-shaped book of cassette mix tape lists is also out now. Mix Tape (Universe) is an ostensible art book, but it’s made up of music minutae and funny essays by people who dig sounds. I dunno why there’re so damn many Glen Friedman/Pushead tapes, but what the hell. Somewhat related is Vito Hannibal Acconci Studio (Museum d’Art Contemporani Barcelona). This is a massive compendium on the poet/artist, which includes reprints of the entire run of the little magazine, 0 to 9, and also an interview about same by Mr. Moore. This is what you call a jumbo read,
Swankish debut LP by a new Baltimore duo, Leprechaun Gathering – a duo comprised of Tom Boram and Jason Willett. Lychees, Kumquats (Ehse) is a rather spamso assemblage that draws equally from the dizzier traditions of electro-thud and random improvisation. The vibe is similar to the cut-n-scram aesthetic of the material Willett released on his Megaphone label, and you could easily break a leg to this one. So exercise due caution. Not heeding this advice, it seems we misplaced the eponymous debut LP by Santa Cruz’s Whysp (Good Village) for an unspecified amount of time. But now it is found and it is a charmingly fruity piece of work. From the label art (an excellent take-off on Harvest’s classic design) to the name checks (Forest, ISB, et al), this is a well-imagined set of UK-style large-group folk-freak musery of the early ‘70s variety. And that’s something we dig quite a bit. And you might as well.
The 1972 film, French Sex Murders (Mondo Macabro) just came out on DVD and like so many other in this series it’s a wildly jake Euro trash classic. Anita Ekberg as a madame, one of the screwiest Bogart impersonations ever by a French film detective, a totally nutty incestuous scientist leaps off the Eiffel Tower, what more could you ask? Well, whatever it is, chances are it’s available in another Mondo Macabro title, Dangerous Seductress. This 1992 Indonesian flick is an insane mix of bikini-girl-zombies with astral-projecting g-spots, Indonesian man-dance moves, blonde worship, and all manners of topless mayhem. Another of their Indonesian finds is 1998’s Lady Terminator, which can only be described as an EVDSP (Extended Vagina Dentata Set Piece). As always it has a lotta symbolic stuff (at least we assume it’s symbolic, rather than random) which you’d have to be a Sun City Girl to absolutely decode. But all you need to enjoy it is one or two eyes. So dance on up!
Last year (or so) there was a supposedly great CDR by Samara Lubelski issued by C.O.M. Could never exactly lay hands on it, though, so it’s a damn good thing that it’s now available on vinyl. In the Valley (Eclipse) is the solo debut by this legendary New York undergrounder (Tower Recordings, Hall of Fame, Jackie-O Motherfucker, etc.), and it is an absolute masterpiece of spaces-blues-logi, almost entirely for solo violin. Samara bends tones, notes and moods to her will, letting them twist themselves silly in the pre-dawn breezes of the city. There’s a definite Henry Flynt vibe to the thing, which is just the thing for a day such as this. Ms. Lubelski is currently touring as part of Bummer Road, a cosmic-blues band with MVEE, and Michael Ehlers, but she is not on their debut CD. That does not mean, however, that Future Ragas & Blues (C.O.M.) should not be on your must-buy list. The mix of harmonica and strings touches a deep nerve here. I am reminded of some tapes that John Fahey once played me of veena/harmonica duets with Al Wilson. And that’s a damn nice memory. Another member of the Bummer Road touring band is Portland, Maine’s Nemo Bidstrup. Nemo also has a solo project called Drona Parva, and the first full DP LP just came out. Salvia Door (Time Lag) mixes key drones with acoustic guitar drones/figures and waffling night mists in a way that recalls hand-drawn maps of lost dream syndicates. The music is delicate but extremely involving and the packaging is incredible. Nice work, Nemo!
Dream Magazine’s editor, George Parsons, has done his standard thing, and created a blimp filled with cool interviews (Tom Rapp to Gary Panter to the Sun City Girls) along with a jillion reviews of obscurities we’ve never heard of, and a sampler CD that plays as fine as a very ripe cheese. Very old school in its punkzine approach is Troy Colvin’s Hell’s Half Acre—single staple, xeroxed writing about movies, bands and DVDs he likes down there in Melbourne. Seen it a million times before, sure, but this one holds together pretty well. Two new issues arrived of the Prague Literary Review. This is a beautifully produced lit magazine, primarily in English, with wonderful graphics, a certain NYC street connection and extremely interesting material. The samples of new Slovenian writing in the latest are particularly brain-watering. We also got an issue of the English language Czech art magazine, Umelec, which has tons of documentary, critical and political stuff on and about the Eastern European art scene. A lotta the references are a little lost on me, but it’s a fascinating mag and one that is sure to divulge many secrets if we leave it near the clubhouse throne for long enough.
Beta-Lactam Ring releases include Le Combat Occulte by La Societe des Timides a la Parade des Oiseaux. This LP reissues some ‘90s material by this fully freaked French combo, who operate in a fairly aggressive RIO vein, with additional nods to everyone from Heldon to Snakefinger-era Residents. The way that their vocals and instrumentals appear to have been recorded at completely different speeds is especially bracing. BLRR’ve also issued the 2LP version of Legendary Pink Dots’ Poppy Variations, which is one stoned horse of a set—ranging in tone from Can’t-like muzz-oblivion, to droney, bagpiped marches through the mushroom glades at night. All of it is riven with the Barrettly presence of Ka-Spel’s throat and a very wiggly time is guaranteed. Related to that is a new Ka-Spel solo LP, O Darkness O Darkness. A concept album of mysterious origins, Darkness is filled with great slabs of ominous sound-sput and very little of Ka-Spel’s singing. His vocal presence is more or less random and more incantoric than usual. A wonderful late night weedful listen. Such a headspace will make the great die-cut cover especially fun to play with. Also from BLRR comes Current 93’s 2LP set, How He Loved the Moon, done for the late Jhonn Balance (of Coil). This includes an almost unrecognizable remix of the classic In Menstrual Night, in a form that is even ghostlier and statelier than the original. Spread over four sides, the music is unlike anything else in the C93 catalogue, and a very fitting tribute to a man who was besotted with the pull of open gravity. The label also conjured up a great new LP by Finnish smoke-traders Kemialliset Ystavat. Entitled Kellari Juniversumi, it continues their trek into the glades of deep forest space. Rural as hell (it almost sounds like a C.O.M. release at times), it’s also a dandy extension of what folk music might be, if we all had good drugs and frigid nights.
More Finnish hijinks are available on the Maniacs Dream’s Die Learn No Way LP (HP Cycle) which stays away from the country’s forests in order to bring you a sort of whizzing, weeviling free-rock-pout-n-pucker that is quite fetching. Keys are wanged as hard as drums are pounded and so on and so forth into the dizzy darkness of midnight. Second LP in a series (or so it seems) from saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Chris Corsano (who recently visited Finland!) Steel Sleet (Tyyfus) is another impressive page in their expanding “book.” Recorded at WMBR in January, 2004 (just as Last Eyes was) this session has a lot of spatial and tonal variations. Each of them drops back for long periods, only to come surging up like a rabbit shot out of exhaust pipe. And the mood ranges from post-bop tenor-assed soul-searching to Euro-style clatter, with many stops in between.
All for now! Live free!
Beta Lactam Ring: http://www.blrrecords.com
Blue Begonia: 225 15th Ave., Yakima WA 98902
Criminal IQ: http://www.criminaliq.com
Trinie Dalton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dream Magazine: http://www.dreamgeo.com
Good Village: http://www.whysp.com
HP Cycle: http://www.hp-cycle.com
Hell’s Half Acre: 90 Prince St., Flemington, Melbourne, VIC 3031, Australia
In the Red: http://www.interedrecords.com
Museum d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona: http://www.macba.es
Mondo Macabro: http://www.mondomacabrodvd.com
Mutant Music: http://www.mutantmusic.com
Paper Rodeo: http://www.paperrad.org
Picks & Lighters: email@example.com
Prague Literary Review: http://www.pragueliteraryreview.com
The Temple: http://www.thetemplebookstore.com
Time Lag: http://www.time-lagrecords.com
Twisted Village: http://www.twistedvillage.com
Waitawhile: c/o http://www.forcedexposure.com