Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)…
by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore
– Exploring the voids of all known undergrounds since 2002 –
1 CLAUDE PELIEU It has been ten years since the French-born artist, writer, and translator Claude Pelieu died at his home in upstate New York. His memory has been well served this past year, by the publication of at least three books that should be of extreme interest to anyone with a true hankering for the avant garde. The first is Kali Yug Express (Bottle of Smoke Press, bospress.net), a fantastic cut-up novel originally published in France in 1974. Translated by Pelieu’s late widow and long-time partner-in-crime, Mary Beach, it’s great to finally have a chance to read this book in a language we completely understand. As with some of his other work, Pelieu’s cut-ups do not always flow with the same dream-logic that guides Burroughs’ hand when he’s navigating similar waters, but it reads quite well. And Bill Roberts’ production standards are as high as ever. Second up is Un Amour de Beatnik (Non Lieu, editionsnonlieu.fr), a collection of letters and poems sent to Pelieu’s first wife (Lula Nash) in 1963-64, along with examples of his visual work from the early ‘60s. Although it’s all in French, the book is written in a relatively straightforward way, so you can parse it out even if yr French is as rusty as ours. Fully annotated, with period photos, a good chronology and whatnot, it’s a very solid read (and Claude’s early Leger-influenced paintings are quite a revelation). Third is Pelieu Mix/Etat des Lieux (la Notonecte, 15 bis rue Noel du Fail, Rennes, 35000, France), assembled by Benoit Delaune. Pelieu Mix is mostly a facsimile edition of some of Pelieu’s notebooks from the late ‘90s, filled with various texts, collages. It’s a great, beautiful jumble of stuff, presented spiral-bound, and now that we’re examining it more closely we realize it may have come out a while ago. But we just got it, so fuck you. More info on Pelieu and his art (as well as Mary Beach’s) can be had at beachpelieuart.com. Worth whatever eye strain it takes.
2 SPECTRE FOLK Spectre Folk is Pete Nolan’s long-running non-Magik Markers combo. And their new album, The Ancient Storm (Vampire Blues, vampireblues.net), is a quartet scene, with Pete joined by Aaron Mullan, Steve Shelley and Peter Meehan. Dreamier, poppier and ghostlier than previous efforts, it is tempting to call this the best record with a world class foodie (Meehan) since Robert Sietsema’s last recording with Blinding Headache. The longer tracks have a splendid psych droopiness and the whole thing just flows like butter. Meanwhile, Nolan’s label, Arbitrary Signs (arbitrarysigns.blogspot.com, has continued to flower slowly. Most recent drop was Your First Ever River by United Waters. UW is the new solo (or solo-esque) project by Brian Sullivan from Mouthus. The guy’s a brutal arm-wrestler (take our word!), but he also shows an incredible deftness with deeply murky pop constructions on River. Even more than with Brian’s other project, Eskimo King, the sounds here are bizarre but assembled with a precision recalling some of the best efforts of the long-gone Bobby J label. It’s a record that rewards heavy, smoked listening. Don’t think we ever mentioned the last record on Arbitrary Signs either, which was Four Corners Bounce by Devin, Gary & Ross. The surnames invovled are Flynn, Panter & Goldstein, so you can be assured this project is also a riot of screwed-up ‘60s pop readymades, interspersed with doper madness and actual songs that will twist yr mind like taffy. Don’t not check it out.
3 COUNTESS PERVERSE The first release of the original (non-hardcore) director’s cut of Jess Franco’s 1973 version of The Most Dangerous Game. Well, sort of anyway. Franco naturally adds lots of gratuitous lesbian sex scenes and cannibalism to the basic “Hey, let’s hunt some humans!” scenario. But the transfer looks great and Mondo Macabro (mondomacabrodvd.com) deserves props for rescuing another great night of trash cinema from the dustbin of history. Not a film, per se, but still cinematic as fuck is Road Movie (Penny-Ante Editions, penny-ante.net) by Mick Farren. Farren is the British born genius behind tons of books, underground sounds and madness of all stripes. Road Movie is a messed-up string of related and violent incidents with dystopian sci-fi highlights. Fast rough and very good. Same is true of the two latest novels we’ve received from Chris D (L.A. man about town, leader of the Flesheaters, and much else). Mother’s Worry and Shallow Water (New Texture, newtexture.com) have been a long time coming, and are both sleazy brain-movies of the highest order. Mother’s Worry is set in the 1980s and is a tale of drugs, crime and sex. Shallow Water is set a century earlier, so there are fewer drugs and even more guns. Insanely great pulp-spew! Another excellent New Texture title is Milk of Amnesia by Donna Lethal. This one is basically a memoir of growing up in Lowell, MA in the 1970s with one of the more crazed families on the block. Truly and deeply whipped.
4 CRYSTAL SYPHON Family Evil (Roaratorio, roaratorio.com) is a very cool archival release by an all-but-unknown quintet from Merced, California, recorded in ’67 and ’68. Their sound has shades of Quicksilver, Kak, and the Youngbloods, with stinging quavery guitar leads winding through downer-blues-moves and neo-pop vocals. Considering what a signing frenzy there was in the Bay Area at the time, it seems odd these guys never even did a single, but this LP was worth the wait. Another classic archival haul is Jersey Sloo by Mad River (Shagrat, shagratrecords.com). Released as a five-song mini-LP with a full color 36-page book, the tracks range from the band’s psych-blues origins in Ohio, to a final full-on Bay Area session, all of which remained unheard until the Shagrat team tracked them down. Amazing sounds—Mad River were, you’ll have to admit, one of the Bay Area’s greatest—and the booklet is over the top. John Hurford artwork, a full explanation of the band’s long relationship with Richard Brautigan, photos, fliers, etc. It’s a staggering package. Another Shagrat release worth mentioning is the Waiting for the Moon EP by Horace. These guys were an early ‘70s UK band, otherwise unrecorded, with connections to Screw (with whom Shagrat did a mindblowing release a few years ago). Horace’s sound is indebted to the West Coast ballroom era, and is first rate. As is the package—gatefold sleeve, liner notes and all. Lost and beautiful sounds, now found. For yr pleasure.
5 EREWHON CALLING Subtitled, Experimental Sounds in New Zealand (The Audio Foundation, audiofoundation.org.nz), this anthology, edited by Bruce Russell, is perhaps the finest bathroom book of the year. Although the title might sound a little dry, the contents are actualy quite moist, and include essays on everything from Peter King’s lathe cuts to Pumice, Matt Middleton, White Saucer, as well as the expected pieces on more specifically “experimental” artists. Just a great compendium and really fun to open randomly for a read. And truly, it has been a goddamn BONUS years for New Zealand recordings as well. A virtual humpload of lost recordings have emerged recently, and for that, we say, thanks. Top on this list must be Toy Love’s Live at the Gluepot (Goner, goner-records.com). Toy Love were a New Zealand quintet who existed in the years between Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate’s involvement in the Enemy and Tall Dwarfs. They were always said to be an astounding live band, but the studio recordings they left only hinted at what they were capable of. This documentation of their last stand of shows (after they’d actually broken up) in Auckland is testament to their raw power—something midway between raunchoid power-pop and ounk wankery. The sound is boss, the liner notes (by the always excellent John Baker) are splendid, and the performance is a beaut. By the time they stomp into “Pull Down the Shades” you’ll be crying tears of the sheerest joy. Also worth tears is the 2LP version of the Clean’s Oddities (540, chaosintejas.bigcartel.com). This seems to have all the first cassette and some stuff from the second one (unless our memories are faulty), and is a beautiful cross between the harsh precision of the Clean at their apex, and the shambolism of Robert Scott’s Electric Blood. A lovely, scattered thing for sure. De Stijl Records (destijlrecords.tumblr.com) has also made us happy by issuing David Kilgour’s 1991 solo debut, Here Come the Cars, on vinyl. Much less cluttered than his work with the Clean (or anybody else), Cars is a pure slice of avant pop, languid and rich and gorgeous. Kilgour has a new LP out as well, with his band The Heavy Eights. Left by Soft (12XU, 12xu.net) is The Heavy Eights’ second album (first on vinyl) and has the easy back/forth volume-dynamism and genteel-tunesmithing larded with scuzz guitar underpine as Neil Young or Yo La Tengo. Good stuff. Other massive Kiwi moves include Bruce Russell’s Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86 on Flying Nun (flyingnun.co.nz), which is a mind-blowing compendium of tracks from NZ’s south island during the years noted. Bruce makes a potent case for it as a font of psychedelic non-revisionism, and even as a mere playlist, it’s maxist as hell.
6 CHRIS CORSANO This tireless son of the Garden State has spat out releases like diseased teeth. One kingly molar is Cut, a solo percussion session released on his own Hot Cars Warp Records (cor-sano.com). As usual, Mr. C makes the damnedest noises using just his hands, some sticks and some other stuff. One doesn’t get quite the same environmental exposure as we did on say, The Young Cricketeer, but the results are no less boggling. Scraps and Shadows (Roaratorio, roaratorio.com) is a new duo LP with Joe McPhee. This time, Mr. McPhee plays mostly tenor sax, and his deep gurgling tone hits tons of places—from pure R&B honk to ripping fiery gusts of sheer overblown freedom. The pieces are dedicated to different saxophonists and drummers, and the results are a lush, grounded and highly jazzic LP. Also as fresh as morning toast is Formerly Extinct by Rangda on Drag City (dragcity.com). Housed in the hideously compelling cover art of Karen Constance, this is the second LP by the trio comprised of Corsano, Ben Chasny and Sir Richard Bishop. Their debut was a bitchen plop into the midst of Love Devotion Surrender, but this new one takes the sound into lots of other special places. The interaction has bizarre rockist form-moves, some parts feature both guitars riffing on independent themes while Chris all but explodes in a frantic attempt to stay ahead of the flow. Other segments have formal – neo-corny, even – themes stated clearly then slowly devolving into odd cmponent parts. The actual playing is truly the result of group-thinking rather than parallel solo activities, which makes it a real treat to play. Rick and Ben have, of course, been up to lots of stuff as well. Rick has a couple of new solo LPs—The Unrock Tapes (Unrock, unrock.de) is a reissue of bits from various tour CDRs released over the years. It’s a dandy stroll through the evolution of his many styles of beautiful stringed-mayhem. Intermezzo (Idelogic Organ, ideologic.org) is a reissue of a single CDR, but it also sounds like a sampler. Almost every track has a different style, but Rick’s personal stamp is so distinctive that the whole thing retains a deeply personal identity. And a charming one at that! Newer still is a CD, Beyond All Defects (Chodpa Media, chodpamedia.com) done with David Oliphant (of Maybe Menta). Haven’t heard it yet, but it’s supposed to be hot—solo guitar by Rick and manipulations by David, all geared at keying in on some of the secret vibrational patterns of Tibetan Buddhism. Mmmm…Heard briefly was the Brothers Unconnected’s Unrock the House 2LP set (Unrock), which captures a full 80 minutes of the tribute to Charle Goucher done over the last few years by Rick and his brother, Alan. A brilliant mix of beauty and the pure evil genius that was Goucher’s gift, Unrock the House is a doozy of an hommage, and a fantastic thing to listen to while drinking fine whiskey from a jelly jar. Honest! As to Chasny, his recent pleasers have included a pair of LPs with 200 Years (his lovely duo with Elisa Ambrogio). Their eponumous debut (Drag City) as well as the limited subscription-only follow-up, Holyoke (Grapefruit, grapefruitrecordclub.com), are as sweet as Tupelo honey itself, with acoutic guitars and blended vocals making a paste as pretty as art is long. We could listen to those dang things every day. There have also been a couple of Six Organs records. The first was Maria Kapel, originally issued in a hand-made edition on Pavilion, but now reissued by Whipping Post Music (whippingpostmusic.com). The music is great acoustic spiraling, reportedly created for a gay porn film soundtrack (we shit you not). It represents some of the most sparkling Six Organs sonics in a while. Then came Ascent (Drag City), which revives the Comets On Fire based line-up of a few years back, and basically blows the doors off everything, hard rock style. A brutal dunderhead move, perhaps, but how could we not endorse it?
7 DAL TOKYO Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo strip, begun in the LA Reader in 1983, and completed in Riddim magazine in 2007, represents one of the great comic epics of the era. The narrative itself is fragmentary and elliptical. Set in a Martian colony founded by Texans and Japanese, it retains certain aspects of both cultures, but its placement on Mars means that pretty much anything goes. Gary’s style evolves through a lot of different approaches over the years, and if you watched his painting develop over the same period, it’s interesting to compare each panel to what he was doing at the time (for which the massive Gary Panter monograph from Picture Box, pictureboxinc.com, is still mighty useful). Textually it’s also possible to follow Gary’s time spent with Dante and Chaucer and lots of other writers on the olden days, whose cadences and tricks (and sometimes even words) he borrowed freely. Reading something like a surrealist diary of a long trip through time, the new edition by Fantagraphics (fantagraphics.com) is cumbersome as all get-out, and absolutely essential.
8 MARCIA BASSETT & SAMARA LUBELSKI Marcia and Samara have been two of the most important players on the sub-underground scene for nearly two decades. Their work in a variety of formats and ensembles has always been spot-on, but they had never done a duo record until Sunday Night Sunday Afternoon on Graham Lambkin’s fautless Kye Records (kyerecords.blogspot.com). And man, the pairing is stellar. Marcia’s guitar and Samara’s violin join to open up whole new vistas of drone and aktion—a genre that has been worked tirelessly for the last decade, but never quite as well as on this record. The surging, sweeping oceans of string tremble they produce has carried us through many a dark night. Should do the same to you. The new LP by Marcia’s long-running solo project, Zaimph is Imagine Yourself Free…. (Yew, via Forced Exposure) is another blazer. Sounds like she’s using a lot of instruments other than guitar to set up two side long trips of perfect, organic rainbow moves, from Heldon-esque suirrel runs to percussive throw-downs. Samara’s new LP, Wavelength (De Stijl), was recorded with an all-star group, and is a rolling masterpiece of dream-pop with meathooks. Instant karma.
9 THE EX 33 We like to consider ourselves pretty up to date when it comes to seeing and hearing new forms of microphone feedback, so our collective maws hit the concrete floor of East London’s Café Oto as Brit saxophonist John Butcher pushed his sax bell deftly and deliberately around the live microphone allowing a most musical and slight scree to dance about the room. No lipping the reed, just hitting a few keys and gently rubbing brass to metal. It was a sound and moment not unlike tearing into a new dimension of rock n roll. Butcher, who has graced Wire magazine covers, recorded for Phil Wachsman’s legendary Bead label and has, since the 1980s, been among the world’s most interesting improvisers (solo and with heavy peeps like Chris Corsano, Paul Lovens, Derek Bailey et al) was just one of the gaggle of guests at the three-night 33 year anniversary of Dutch anarcho-activist punk art noise group The Ex. This is a group who has recharged their existence with forays into Ethiopia where they shared their propulsion rhythms and guitar/amp slash with both old and young masters of Ethiopian jazz. The Ex always had a strong sense of no wave (they call it: Ex-music) which served them well through a shifting community musicians shiting around theie nucleus (primarily guitarist love god Terrie Hessels and percussionist-on-fire Katherina Bornefeld). Right now The Ex are at their most pumped, with long standing action guitarist Andy Moor and most recent recruit vocalist/guitarist/sampler sicko Arnold De Boer. Arnold, the youngest member, is the kid the Ex groupies are howling about. He has effortlessly sluiced a fresh tincture of ass kicking gasoline into a band that already incinerated every stage it hit. That and the employment of Ethiopian bliss sound has elevated the Ex into possibly being the best band out there. Any band penning a song called “Catch My Shoe,” inspired by the leather footwear winged towards the dumbass dome of George W. Bush in Afghanistan wins. No contest.
The Ex curated this three-day event and it was surprising from start to finish. First up was Zea + Charles, the duo of Arnold De Boer (The Ex) and French clarinet player Xavier Charles, performing their hit 7” Bourgeois Blues amongst other slight and artful songs with lyrics seemingly pro-Socialist. It brought one into the heart of the Ex, who always advanced the notion of community and anti-oppression activism. Things became a bit wack-a-doo with the next act Jackdaw With Crowbar, a nutso Brit trio who, since the late 1980s, perform “visual music with thrash film.” Centered by a guitarist who played magnificent slide and shred, the two outlying vocalists were spastic (or drunk) and kinda hilarious with their “hand picked words.” As far as we could tell they were taking the piss out of rock n roll as entertainment whilst still reveling in it. And revel they surely did, playing a long ass set, the payoff being when one of the singers donned a dog head mask and ran about barking into his microphone; in retrospect, a perfect invocation for the music to come. And it came tough with the trio of guitarists Terry and Andy Ex with sax belly buster Mats Gustafsson. Mats has been on a tear the last decade releasing an avalanche of free jazz exploration in tribute to his mentor, Bengt Frippe Nordstrom, as well as his heavy free rock blowout combo The thing. Not to mention his constant touring and recording with Peter Brotzman. The man is a savage improviser. His furious weave with the metallic swipes and scrapes of these two chung-chung-chung maestros was hair-raising and magnificent. Following this heat stroke was Chicago reeds man Ken Vandermark stepping into a solo space. Ken played three pieces, one each on alto, tenor and clarinet and they were spectacular. Lyrical, searching, finding, embracing, setting free—it was all there in a humble yet strong touch. He has become, along with Joe McPhee and Paul Flaherty the true vanguard horn player from the contemporary USA open jazz scene. The Ex ended the night with a bonkers set of ballistic tunes leaving Café Oto blown apart as people stood, took their fingers from their beards, folded the chairs and danced the fuck out of the place.
The next night began with a teenage all-girl punk trio from London, Trash Kit, who ruled. Their sound is Afrobeat, super tight and raw. UK label Upset The Rhythm released a great LP in 2010 and there’re some 7”s and cassettes available as well. Steve Beresford, a giant on the UK experimental music scene, played piano in duo with Dutch trombonist Wolter Weirbos. Steve has always had a sly mix of high technique and dada in his presentation. His playing tonight was sweet—thoughtful chordings and runs, then full cluster smashes and the sound of the piano lid opening and closing with a considered bang. Weirbos is a phenomenal player active since the late 1970s. He was beautiful tonight sliding his bone into multiphonic discussion with Beresford, at one point slipping off the mouthpiece extension and whistling through it for some high squeak energy. After this was a solo dance piece by Valentina Campora, choreographed by Gabriella Maiorino with pre-recorded music from Andy Moor and Yannis Kyriakides, a Cypriot sound artist who moved to Holland to study with composer Louis Andriessen. It started with Valentina alone, back to audience, with a slooow movement and the audience realizing someone was up to something hissed their hushes and the place dropped to silence. As Andy’s tape began to emit sparkles of electric guitar harmonics her body became more engaged, alive to the sound where eventually she was twisting and gyrating and getting very close to the English people sitting at their tables, who would giggle or cough nervously. It ended in a flurry of body action setting the tone for the two Ethiopian dancers, one male one female, who joined The Ex for their night-ending roof-raiser. It was cold outside but hot as the sun’s eyeball in this room.
The final night began with Andy Moor in duo with Anne-James Chaton, a French poet, artist and sound-collagist who utilizes megaphones and shredded papers in his delivery. It sounded amazing, a cacophony of teeth and animal desire shot through a rotating power tool. Andy and Anne-James (who is a he) have released several 7”s on the Unsound label called the Transfer Series exploring “themes of transition and transportation with side A constructed from factual information and side B from fiction. Next up were Terry Ex and Ab Baars. It was very exciting to see Baars, one of the all-time legends of Dutch avant-garde jazz. A tall, stately individual he has what is commonly seen as an unmoving obstinate character while the world explodes around him and that is undoubtedly his charm. An erudite player who breathed colors and greetings in and around the fire thunks of Terry’s six strings. They were followed by one of the most mind-blowing rock trios we’ve encountered since the Minutemen, an instrumental trio who have hardly played outside some basements in their home of Bordeaux France. Drummer Jorge Vega is one of the most insane skin thrashers we’ve heard this decade. His connection to speed guitarist Ian Saboya and his bro bass dude Enrique Vega is phenomenal. Every hair on every back (except ours, as they are hairless) was erect as these wine country killers unleashed a sonic lashing. After this came the aforementioned John Butcher epiphany, in duo with Tony Buck. And again the night ended with The Ex, this time with Brass Unbound augmenting their tunes. BU is a hot hot hot line up of Vandermark, Baars, Weirbos and the Italian trumpeter Roy Paci, an amazing artist who has performed with the celebrated Italian noise rock group ZU as well as the Basque legend Manu Chao. These cats just chomped and soared through every tune with wild charts of Ethiopian swoops and unleashed abandon. The Ex and their beloved and loving audience collapsed to the Café Oto stage amidst broken chairs, dripping smiles, swirling pints of bitters and iced glasses of Shochu and Green Tea (the go-to drink of ours at this pad). If this band comes any where remotely near yr zone, trust us, you will run away with them. Or better advice: start yr own.
10 SILTBREEZE and COLUMBUS DISCOUNT LABELS These two record labels have produced enough great noise to make anyone squirm uncomfortably, and we are always saddened to realize we haven’t really kept up with their discogs quite as well as we should. Some recent glitter of a particularly pretty nature on Columbus Discount (columbusdiscountrecords.com) includes Cheater Slicks’ Reality Is a Grape, which extends their brazenly crude approach to garage rock into new patches of psych (and even neo-prog terrain). The Slicks’ Live Vol. 2—2010 is another triumphant dive into the gutter. If there’s a better living American garage band, we’d like to know who it is. Another perfect move was releasing Northren Psych (sic), the debut LP by Ron House’s new band – shockingly clean psych moves serve as the backdrop for Ron’s disntinctive pipes, and all is well in Ohio.
Meanwhile, Siltbreeze (siltbreeze.com) (helmed by Ohio-expat, Tom Lax) has continued to pump out majestic sputs of vinyl. Their New Zealand reissue/retrieval series has been impeccable. First vinyl for Gone Aiwa by Above Ground, a short-lived band helmed by Bill Direen in ’83, who mixed pure Velvetry with slinky psych moves. Then there’s the Walking Slow 7” by Vacuum, Direen’s legendary late ‘70s Christchurch band. This is a no-fi Velvets/Rough Trade hybrid at its apex. Air Ache in the Belly of the Beast by Max Block rescues the full discography of this pre-Renderers unit once and for all, allowing us to wallow in the art-rock sound of this quartet (somewhere between late period Pere Ubu and the Providence Tits). Twangy! Additonally, there’re straight reissues of Dead C’s sprawling noise-pop classic, Harsh ‘70s Reality, as well as an overwhelming three titles—Big Cheap Motel, Scary Pt. III! and Three Virgins—by the unbelievably shambolic Axemen. That shit is crazed. Less lunched, but equally hep is Blip! the third album by Hamish Kilgour and his newly international flunkies. Produced by Sonic Boom, the music is thick pop with a slightly drugged sound. How odd!
Less odd is Bruise Constellation, the debut LP by Sydney’s auto-destruct-rock-duo, Circle Pit. CP blend bits of the Dolls, the Velvets, Jesus & Mary Chain and occasional Paisley highlights into an addictive, sloppy phlug. Quite charming. And if you haven’t noticed, there’s been an astounding resurgence of greatness from Australia lately. One more Siltbreeze example is Look Forward to Nothing by Brisbane’s Kitchen’s Floor, who conjure up spirals of dusted art-punk in the Urinals tradition. More stately work from the trio is evidenced on their new Quemada (quemadarecords.blogspot.com) LP, Live in Brisbane, which reissues a Negative Guest List cassette in 2010. The sound here is neo-acoustic, loose and swingingly flat, more like some lost Electric Blood session for K than anything actually rockist. Which is nice. As is Cut Sleeves, the debut LP by Melbourne’s Bits of Shit. Cut Sleeves (Homeless, homelessrecords.bandcamp.com) is definitely rockist, however, using a hard punk rock attack with some faux-Ginn guitar-angularity spread amidst more orthodox shards of West Coast style punk classicism and random boogie-metal burps. The Double Natural LP (Bedroom Suck, bedroomsuckrecords.com) by Melbourne’s Boomgates is yet another side of the moon. A part-time project, the vibe here is jangly, more in line with the Lighthouse Keepers or Zimmermans than your standard OZ thumper. By the way, the U.S. distributor for most all of the Australian stuff is Easter Bilby (ineedinsulation.blogspot.com), so check there if yr snoot is peaked.
Oh shit, way past outta room. As always, send two copies to:
PO Box 627
Northampton MA 01061 USA