first published in Arthur No. 24 (September, 2006)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
First of all, a few people have been griping lately that they continue to send us stuff to review and they aren’t getting any word aktion in return. To this, we say—sorry. We get a numbing amount of material to review, and the vast bulk of it is actually pretty interesting. We do the best we can, although there has been talk about supplementing the print column with something additional that’d run on the Arthurmag.com website. In the meantime, don’t lose the faith. If you are doing good, idiosyncratic work, we’ll do what we can to pass the word one way or another. Keep it coming.
Upset The Rhythm has been one of the coolest collectives tooling around London since their inception in 2003. They put on shows by the most radical of radical post riot punk action core noise freakers who happen to blow through town as well as put a few records out. They’ve really scored hard with a split release LP by howling UK psyche-tribe femme jamsters Leopard Leg and San Francisco all-girl metal/howl 4tet T.I.T.S.. Both these bands are super wild with Leopard Leg being a 10+ outfit of London and Brighton women stirring up a drumming, whooping cry to the Goddess light of sound, vision and pre-rock soulfire. T.I.T.S. have weirdo metal moves informed by the legacy of S.F. underground experimental noise and good times rock chaos catharsis from whence they came. The total witch jazz guitar juice and pummel bass/drum bash here put us on high alert. This split LP Throughout the Ages is a gorgeous gatefold affair and one anyone’d be a sap to pass on.
Tony Rettman, long time major domo of 200 Pound Underground, has been expanding his empire lately. He’s doing all kindsa crap on his new WFOT imprint, and one of the neatest is a book of art by Marcia Bassett and Matthew Bower. Not sure if it has a title, but it’s great stuff – avant garde van art at its finest. Good thing to look at the next time you spin that Hototogisu 3LP set. Fusetron and Volcanic Tongue handle it. Michael Bowman’s Nova Feedback is also easy on the eyes. The first five issues collect a hot bouquet of drawings and collages that range from extremely casual to speed-freak-detailed. Some of them have a very ‘50s animation feel to them (although the subject matter has a tendency to be bit perverse) and it would be mighty interesting to meet a woman who was covered with his designs as tats. There’s also another great booklet from L.A.’s Hello Trudi folks. Bro, Maybe the Good Times Are Over is a beautiful menagerie of smuts both crude and cruder. Garry Davis has also come through with something different: a booklet of collages called You’re On Glue. Done over the course of 17 years, it’s a wonderful collection of image-chops, very few of which fall into any of the standard style-holes one might expect.
Help yourself to an exquisitely duppy split LP, shared by Dinosaurs, Baseball & Hopscotch (a sorta Indiana spazz-prov all star orchestra) and France’s Glen or Glenda (Friends and Relatives). DBH lock onto a riff the way a horny poodle locks onto your pantleg, burrowing snoots deep into your, uh, snoot receptor. It’s reminiscent of a more jazzbo-oriented Fuzzhead or something. Glen or Glenda are a trio who go from grunting metal-themed instrumentals into a very bruising jazz/noise hybrid at the drop of a chapeau. I have no real idea what the fuck they’re up to, but what’s not to like? Check their website and see if you can get an accurate fathom reading.
Most interesting rock read this time might well be the interview with Portland, Maine’s the Same Band in Kapital Ink. Although I’d never heard of the combo—and still haven’t heard a note they played—the story they tell ranges from Marion Brown’s tenure at Bowdoin College through the punk era, and it’s highly reet. Also up there in any terms you’d care to name is Dumb Angel #4. Largely penned by surf/Beach Boys scholar, Dominic Priore, this issue is a wild dive into Southern California beach culture of the early/mid ’60s. Includes a piece by Harvey Kubernick about Phil Spector, a great survey of the early work of artist John van Hammersveld, stuff on Les Baxter, and wads of words and pics regarding the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dick Dale, et al. It’s been a long time since the last one, but the wait was definitely worth it. As is issue #6 of George Parsons’ always-delirious Dream magazine. Noted in some circles as the most heroic looking interviewee in that Jandek documentary, Parsons has assembled a great set of pieces regarding psych, folk and general undergroundery (My Cat is An Alien, Bridget St. John, Vibracatherdal Orchestra, Windy & Carl, etc.) and packed it all up with a dandy CD featuring all of the aforementioned and more.
Swinging Michigan aktion comes in the form of the Tender Swarm LP by Genders (Ypsilanti). It has a disntinctly post-punk Brit sound with shards of PiL, the Pop Group and even Furious Pig rooting around the garbage-strewn lanes of the upper midwest. How careerist! There is also a post-punque classique feel to some of the moves on first, before and never again (Mt. St. Mtn.), the debut LP by San Francsico’s the Mall. But they intersprese their bass lobbery with geographically appropriate references—a little Residents on the vocals, some Tuxedo Moon on the keys, even a touch of Sleepers in the guitar. Mix that with murky original stutterage and you get pretty cool results. Nice looking album, too.
It was with tremulous hand that we snatched up Tim Mitchell’s book, Sonic Transmission: Television, Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell. With the classic 1974 photo of Verlaine, Hell, Ficca and Lloyd holding a TV set with leather jackets and chopped hair this looked like a sure thing. Unfortunately it hardly half delivers. Mitchell has done some decent research, primarily compiled from previously written documents and interviews and Television fan sites. It’s awesome to read the early accounts of these dudes, how they came to NYC as itinerant lads at loose ends with reality and their subsequent involvement with the poetry scene as well as the New York Dolls heyday. The author divines some fairly interesting analysis from the early poem texts and tackles some pretty obscure reference and context thus. But it would’ve been amazing to have retrospective dialogue with the subjects as well as more select photos than what’s here. And there’s some sorely lacking flashpoints such as any detail on the release of the first Television 7” “Little Johnny Jewel” on Ork: an incredible historical gap. But if Verlaine and Hell had any significance in your life as poet/musicians then you kinda gotta get this.
Mad Monk is the new label Wooden Wand has started after discontinuing the long running Polyamory enterprise. Polyamory was a united effort betwixt Wooden Wand and the Vanish Voice’s James Jackson Toth and Tovah O’Rourke. Purportedly since Tovah was whisked off by the jamming guns of Wolf Eyes’ John Olson and betrothed in an Ypsilanti, Michigan love nest James thought to create a new phase label and Mad Monk is off and slamming. First up is a very hip and unctious LP by the legendarily obscurant New England kosmiche syrup improv trio Astral Blessing. Anyone lucky enough to have ever caught one of AB’s gigs will have sweat dripping down their calves knowing that this baby now exists. Paul LeBreque (Sunburned Hand of The Man, Trees Chants & Hollers, Aeth’r Myth’d, The Other Method, Soil Sing Through Me) was truly under the influence of grade A channeling when performing with these cats and it’s high time we have the privilege of strapping this lady on any time we need that special rip.
Nordic Visions LP by Vanishing Voice (Gypsy Sphinx) is a rattly, diffuse set of folk-based brick-rattle improvs. Even though Pete Nolan is present at the sessions, there is no rapping (or even much in the way of non-rap vocalizing, either). The results might be a little generic in terms of non-focus string-thrust, but hey – it’s a great genre. Label can be had through Fuestron or Volcanic Tongue. About a thousand miles more trad in its folk stylings is the Life Without Outlaw LP (Grotto) by Oklahoma’s Outlaw Con Bandana. Led by Brendan Hagberg, this quartet combines first gen revo-folk (ala the Knitters) with a spiny combination of loner motion and deep rural vibrations. A few parts are so accessible you’ll almost want to ignore them, but the overall brunt is excellent, in the style of albums on the old Raccoon label.
The most interesting surprise poetry this time is Twin Vapor by Eric Amling. His writing is great. Long-lined poems are filled with gorgeous surrealist imagery, bleeding heart galore and plenty of yucks. This would include perhaps the best penis nickname I’ve yet had the pleasure to encounter—the Episcopal Hammer. Seek it for pleasure. Less of a surprise, but equally excellent is the new batch from Bill Shute. Bill has been writing for a long time and was a huge influence on my generation of fanzine clowns for his breadth of vision and sheer chops. More recently, he has been churning out booklets of great worth. The latest pile of them includes: Extension, Sonnets for Bill Doggett, So Long, and three new editions of the Sound Library Series (Spirit, Balance and Envy). Apart from the rather more formal sonnets, Bill’s work writhes across the pages, owing certain debts to the Language Poets, but not getting caught in the stink of their dead fish. This stuff is fully alive, fast and beautifully observational. Published by Kendra Steiner Editions.
Most excellent new noise label of the month goes to Trash Ritual out of Maryland. Kinda came outta nowhere with six cassette releases early in the year by a litany of completely confusing yet astoundingly deadly harsh hitters such as Blood ov thee Christ, Slow Burning and the extreme waste stasis sonics of The Rita who we gabbed about last column. A recent slew of seven tapes has us nailed to the floor with sicko nerve damage and narco psychosis. Some real heavy bladder piercing via the entrail fucking efforts of infamous Japanese earbleeder Government Alpha as well as the intriguing Genius Females and contemporary favorite Circuit Wound. A robust menagerie of mung-noise scum.
Emily Maguire from Sydney, Australia has been writing commentary for the Sydney Morning Herald with sharp and personal observances on race, religion, abortion, teenage life and all things worth opining on for a few years now. She’s a young voice coming out of seemingly nowhere with significant ideas and a completely arresting linguistic savvy. She recently blew minds with her first novel Taming the Beast (Brandl & Schlesinger, Australia) which involves itself with the brutal seduction of a 14-year-old schoolgirl by her English Lit teacher. The sex scenes in this book are graphic and constant yet never gratuitious or purposefully titillating. But they are shocking and the trajectory of the girl’s life, particularly after being abandoned by the teacher, who we find out is a repressed sadist, constitutes an intense page-turner. The book rips like a contempo crime noir thriller. It’s underlying vibe is one concerned with psycho obsession brought on by animal physics as exacted by intellectuals who you’d think could save themselves by their own wisdom. But, alas, fuck that, these people are dooooomed. A crazy read that has been zonking OZ and translated into German, Italian, Polish and Russian and ready to be published Stateside right about now by Harper Perennial. A wicked ride.
To Be Treated (Load) by New Orleans’ Impractical Cockpit is their first post-disaster LP, but it is no more filled with dread than prior efforts. This always-mutational combo has a way of adding a certain dab of power-raunch to their free-form freak rock, which gives it an edge over its more pointy-headed peers. Without veering into sheer noise, they manage to totter pretty damn close and pretty damn well. Load has also blessed us with an LP by Massachusetts’ Fat Worm of Error. Pregnant Babies Pregnant with Pregnant Babies is a lot like the good parts of Chris Cooper’s old band, Caroliner. There’s a combination of chittering insect nonsense and a centerless, gravity-defying surge of rock-based music that flows over everything the way butter flows across waffles. It’s a delicious sproing of anarcho-gush mechanics.
In person, I always find Ian Svenonius to be something of a (small p) pixie. That said, his new book, The Psychic Soviet (Drag City) is pixie-ish only in its size. The font is goddamn hard for an old guy to see all the time, but when the words swim into focus they’re hep. Basically a collection of essays pondering stupid connections in quasi-rigorous academic doublespeak, The Psychic Soviet is one of those books that is most satisfying when opened randomly (perhaps whilst on the commode) and nibbled in small bits. Also of note is the latest book by Chris Kraus called Torpor (semiotext(e), USA). The writing exhibits, in full force, the talent first perceived in her scandalous 1997 debut “I Love Dick” (about the author’s brief period of investigative obsession of renowned media theorist Dick Hebdige). For incisive, and intimate, observations of the social miasma of the art world and, indeed, the sexual politics inherent in this world, Chris is caustic, romantic, self-involved and seductive. Torpor concerns itself with a feminist filmmaker consumed and confounded by the intellect and desire of a rapacious philosopher lover. The writing is personalized and smart and by its very nature of open thought and independent energy succeeds in being the great work you hope the book’s character to exact. A very cool surprise.
It’s been a while since we got a package from Sympathy for the Record Industry, but one’s here and it’s a goodie. Two new sets from protean NYC bands, originally active in the dead days of pre-punk blandocracy. Suicide’s Attempted 2LP set was recorded at Max’s Kansas City in January ’80. It’s a great recording and captures the duo at a particularly sophisticated juncture, floating free from their ultra-aggressive roots, actively creating a kinda viral machine psychobilly. Brilliant shit. Then there’s the New York Dolls’ From Paris with Love (L.U.V.), another 2LP set. It doesn’t necssarily add a whole lot to the band’s discography (it’s been out in a couple of different versions before), but it sounds boss, and demonstrates these guys were on their game right up ‘til the end (which this show was). Ah well.
Nice crude little art magalet arrived from Mark Nichols. Patter #1 collects a bunch of crude single page illustrations, many of which remind me of the work of Napoleon Dynamite. Which is a kinda good memory. Whitewalls produces books at the opposite end of the production spectrum: high quality paper, design and content. They’ve had a bunch of good stuff lately, and the two that are in front of me right now are no exception. Peter’s ABC Book by Robert Amft is a 60th anniversary reprint of a strange kids alphabet book by a Chicago-based illustrator. Both straightly sentimental and possessed by an untaggably odd aesthetic, it’s quite pleasing. As is Red Empty (Chicago 2003) by Swedish artist C.M. von Hasswolff. This book is a collection of red monochrome prints of empty buildings, transformed by their color bath into structures more hypnotic and mysterious than their reality would ever dare hint. Nice.
Some records yield their mysteries immediately. Play them once and you know them. Other take a certain mood or a certain time and place to connect. One of the latter is the LP by Aritoma Nishihara, which we’ve been trying to decode for several months. Overdubbed layers of vocals, acoustic guitars, bamboo flute and other things make the music here seem so ephemeral at first that it’s almost hard to ineract with. But the more you play it, the deeper it digs under your skin. There’s a wide-eyed intensity to the explorations here that eventually allows you to go past the simplicty and brightness of the surface and make you realize that the inner workings of the music are dark, confused and very strange. The vocals are in Japanese, but they still carry a mood of confusion and yearning that is palpable beyond the barriers of mere language. It’s a beautiful, deeply personal effort, with touches of Takoma, early Mazzacane, and comteporary loners. It’s also very worth your time.
Alright, we finished up with a couple solid days of DVD viewing. Yow, there’s a lot of stuff to see. The Galaxie 500 Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste 2DVD set (Plexifilm) is a straight up collection of what must be just about all the live footage they could unearth, from an afternoon at the Middle East through UK television stuff. And these guys were not always the most exciting band to watch, but it sure sounds good to us. The booklet interview by James McNew is funny, too. Related to this is Damon & Naomi’s Shibuya Nest Tokyo Japan June 24 3005 DVD (Damon & Naomi), which is a simple document of an amazing live show. The pair is abetted by Kurihara and Batoh from Ghost, as well as Bhob Rainey (of nperigm). Legendary Japanese free-folk guy, Kan Mikami, even comes out for a guest spot, and the results are very hep. Trash viewing highlights were two from Mondo Macabro. We’d known Terry Riley’s great, writhing soundtrack to Lifespan for years, but had never had a chance to see the movie. Now it’s available and it’s a strange ’74 European thriller about weird science with Klaus Kinski. Hard to follow at times, but still slippery fun, and the Riley stuff works great. Also splendid is The Devil’s Sword—a berserk Indonesian movie about cyclops and umbrellas and people with bad skin. Excellent. A new company, Other Cinema, also sent three cool ones. Russ Forster and Dan Sutherland’s So Wrong They’re Right, which is kinda the grandaddy of all the underground documentaries that’ve been done of late. It follows the arc of the 8-track fan world and has funny interviews with such heavies as Phil Milstein, Michael Hurley, David Greenberger and lots more. Craig Baldwin’s Sonic Outlaws is about musical appropriation and copyright shit. Largely grounded in Negativland’s troubles with U2 and SST, it also features stuff on the Tape Beatles, John Oswald and even a bit of historical context. Some of the collages are choppy to watch, but it’s interesting as hell to acfually see Negativland at work and play. Animal Charm’s Golden Digest is a collection of videos made from “found” footage, ranging from the hideous to the sublime. Some of the pieces are totally great and very strange, others are not so compelling. But hey—we sat through them all, so could you. Finally, there’s an insane thing called Trash Talking by Paper Rad. It is like watching some sorta psychedelic Atari 64 game while you’re zipping around the house on too many ‘shrooms. Yikes. Check it out.
Okay. We’re outta breath, space and time. Bye.
Eric Amling: email@example.com
Michael Bowman: http://www.gallerymjb.com
Brandl & Schlesinger: http://www.brandl.com.au
Damon & Naomi: http://www.damonandnaomi.com
Garry Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drag City: http://www.dragcity.com
Dumb Angel: http://www.dumbangelmagazine.com
Friends and Relatives: http://www.friendsandrelativesrecords.com
Glen or Glenda: galerie.pache.free.fr
Hello Trudi: http://www.hellotrudi.com
Kapital Ink: email@example.com
Kendra Steiner Editions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mad Monk: http://www.woodenwand.net/madmonk
Emily Maguire: emilymaguire.typepad.com
Mondo Macabro: http://www.mondomacabrodvd.com
Mt. St. Mtn.: http://www.mtstmtn.com
Mark Nichols: 320 N. 2nd Street #2, DeKalb IL60115
Aritomo Nishihara: email@example.com
Other Cinema: http://www.othercinemadvd.com
Paper Rad: http://www.paperrad.org
Sympathy for the Record Industry: sympathyrecords.com
Sonic Transmission : http://www.lastgasp.com/d/28984
Trash Ritual: http://www.trashritual.cjb.net
Upset The Rhythm: http://www.upsettherhythm.co.uk
Volcanic Tongue: http://www.volcanictongue.com