Tagged: post-punk

From the Lap of Cougar

May I declare myself a long-standing fan of MX-80 Sound, one of the more unusual American bands to have ever been tagged with a New Wave or No Wave label, a love affair which began when I snarfed up a UK Island pressing of their Hard Attack LP in Coventry. It was a time when Woolworths still existed, they still sold vinyl records, and they marked down items they couldn’t sell, so I secured this tasty zonkeroo for about 50p. Since I was also in love with The Residents at the time, it wasn’t too long before I found out about MX-80 Sound’s superb LP releases for Ralph Records, namely Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control, all of them gems. I’m still looking for an original of Big Hits, their debut EP, but it’s rare and costly. Byron Coley, who has done the press for the band’s new LP So Funny (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR250) is also a loyal supporter I assume, since he interviewed the band for Forced Exposure magazine in 1991 and put them on the cover too. During that interview, he demonstrated arcane knowledge of their discography that even the band didn’t know about. Coley also penned an authoritative essay on this Indiana band for the Superior Viaduct CD reissue of Hard Attack, a release which is worth owning for that sleeve note alone, although the remastering of it is also excellent. Well, MX-80 Sound never gave up in all that time, despite lack of commercial success; my 50p cut-out story is only one manifestation of their inexplicable inability to sell large numbers of records.

1977’s Hard Attack pretty much comes roaring out at you like an out-of-control heavy truck, except you then realise the truck is following a crazy roller-coaster route of its own making and the drivers and passengers have a laconic, offbeat sense of humour, and mean no harm. On So Funny, there may not be the same effusive and scratchy energy, but the core trio of Bruce Anderson, Dale Sopheia and Rich Stim still have their own unique electrical voice. On these grooves, I would characterise it as a weird blend of guitar chords creating mixed frequencies that probably shouldn’t really work, but they do. I have that same sensation of being drenched, almost drowned, by these guitars as I enjoyed in 1981. I also savour the way that all the guitar parts are slightly mismatched, as if we were hearing the aural equivalent of an off-register screenprint made by Andy Warhol and his team; MX-80 Sound have never seemed to particularly care for being a “tight” band, and it’s one of their greatest strengths. Stim’s singing voice is another irreplaceable element, and I still savour the bemused tone he evinces as he rattles off his slightly surreal lyrics and slanted observations. Why did we ever settle for Michael Stipe when we had Rich Stim?

This LP, recorded in California around 2013-2015 (the band moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s, which is probably how they hooked up with The Residents and could be aligned with the SF New Wave “scene”) was originally issued as a file-based album on 2015 on their own label, and now surfaces on vinyl. The band are fleshed out by a new drummer, Nico Sophiea, and the guitarist Jim Hrabetin (who also played on two Family Vineyard releases in the late 1990s). Original drummer Marc Weinstein sings on one track. Along with the songs, the band continue their preoccupation with surf guitar-like instrumentals, and soundtrack music – hence cover versions of ‘A Man And A Woman’, John Barry’s ‘Goldfinger’, and oddest of all the ‘X-Files’ theme. None of these are taken completely seriously, and the sleek menace of the James Bond tune is replaced by a faintly absurdist humour. The X-Files music ends up far stranger than the original theme, and seems to emerge from a place that accepts alien abduction and UFOs as everyday occurrences. I’m delighted with this record, and only the goofy cover painting by Rhode Montijo puzzles me. Even so it’s possible to read that image as a metaphor for the way that veteran bands like MX-80 Sound are treated by the uncaring youth of today. From 6th September 2016.

Big Gold Dream

Vivien Goldman
Resolutionary
GERMANY STAUBGOLD 141 CD / LP (2016)

My recollections of singer/journo/broadcaster Vivien Goldman only really amount to two things: her role as a guest vocalist with the Flying Lizards and as a co-presenter on T.V.’s “Big World Café” 1, where her green leather suit was seen as a triumph of left-field tailoring by yours truly. So, if like me, you’ve missed out on a fair bit of her back product, the Staubgold retrospective, joining the dots between releases on labels various, will be a precious godsend. Initially Viv began seriously vocalising as an oohs’n’aahs backing singer on a number of Adrian Sherwood productions, but her real debut in the post-punk spotlight began with a pair of tracks with the aforementioned Flying Lizards. An amorphous entity in which members of Aswad and The Slits mingled with the cream of the capital’s avant garde. “Her Story” and “The Window” are extracted from the Lizards’ debut full-lengther. The second cut, a lyrically ambiguous piece of deconstructed post punkery has a sweetness and light vocal waft that certainly masks a darker couplet or two. “…sometimes I think he’s a vampire, he’s making holes to drain blood…” A supernatural threat from Mr. Alucard or an instalment from an abusive/controlling relationship? Perplexing ain’t in it.

“Launderette”/”Private Armies”/”P.A. Dub” was initially put out as a Rough Trade and/or 99 Records twelve-incher and was overseen by the Lydon/Levine/Goldman triumvirate. Track one’s storyboard must surely rank as one in a miniscule number of songs that sets a romantic tryst in a coinwash (the other that springs to mind being “Little Does She Know” by The Kursaal Flyers). The darker, anthemic “Private Armies” and its dub obverse links male impotence with gun fetishism (sounds about right…) amid rubbery bass action and Viv’s withering sarcasm, delivered again in high register, where butter wouldn’t melt.

Chantage (formed with fellow chantoosie Eve Blouin) came together, albeit briefly, in the early eighties when Viv upped sticks to Paris. Their one-off on the Celluloid imprint sees a thirteen-deep throng (including Steve Beresford and The Pop Group’s Bruce Smith) blurring styles like it’s going out of fashion. All manner of contempo genres morphing seamlessly into this gallic melting pot. “Do it Twice” (a Wailers cover) and “It’s Only Money” with its exuberant steel pans, backporch violin and supple African guitar lines were so goshdarn commercial/eighties radio friendly, easily leaving their contemporaries like Weekend and Carmel eating stale quiche. I’m amazed that an album containing more hook-laden cosmopolitan chic failed to get off the blocks.

Viv’s creative wellspring certainly hasn’t run dry as the “Punk Professor of the N.Y.U.” has recorded house twelve inchers and co-written tracks with Coldcut and Massive Attack etc etc…but I doubt whether Staubgold would dip their toes into those particular waters thirty odd years down the pike. So, for me, it’s the 1979 to ’82 portion of Ms. G’s past that I’ll set a place.

  1. Major bonus points go to this programme for its reactivation of the hardboiled/noir “Johnny Staccato” series with the ultra-cool John Casssavetes in the title role.

Love Over Gold: This Is Not This Heat Live

This Heat at the Barbican Sat 4 March 2017

Second outing for this unusual musical venture which calls itself This Is Not This Heat; two original members from the trio This Heat, plus a number of additional musicians drawn from the worlds of art-rock, free improvisation, and just plain good music. Not the first outing; it came, out of nowhere almost, to Café Oto for a two-night residency in February 2016, which I completely missed. Reports were good – emotions ran high; loyal fans in tears, listeners travelling long distances from beyond the seas to catch the event.

I was overwhelmed by the Barbican night, the power and the beauty of the music. The songs and tunes from the band’s concise output (2 LPs, one 12-inch) which I know so well were running through my head, playing in parallel to these new versions performed on the stage. I’m going to try to account for why it was such a success.

Collaborative, for one thing. Musicians including James Sedwards, improvising bass player John Edwards, violinist and keyboard player Merlin Nova, drummer Frank Byng…not to mention star names Thurston Moore and Chris Cutler. These players are not only able to produce highly convincing versions of the “original” arrangements, but also brought new ideas, new “textures”, to each piece. Purists may have wanted an exact replica of the albums This Heat or Deceit performed on stage, in the manner of acts at the South Bank (which I have seen and enjoyed) that gave us Forever Changes and Pet Sounds, classic albums re-created live on stage, by well-drilled experts. Instead, we got much more, something much deeper.

When I think of added depth…I heard it in the tunes, and most importantly, in the songs. Oh the songs! This Heat wrote great songs! 1 I almost forgot how, on record, there’s such a striking mix of voices, high and low tones, weird harmonies clashing, the grain of many voices, unexpected intervals that leave you breathless. That rich quality was built on, by the trio of dedicated vocalists Jenny Moore, Luisa Gerstein and Laura Groves, joining Hayward and the other singers; a polyphony of voices. The harmonies now became unbearably beautiful. Conversations, previously obscured in the original recordings, suddenly came forth. Meanings were enriched, and deepened. Obscure lyrics – beautiful poetry – were suddenly now audible, and readable like books. Most prominent successes to illustrate this: ‘Music Like Escaping Gas’ (“There She Blows…”), ‘The Fall of Saigon’, and ‘Independence’. And how could I forget ‘Sleep’, on stage a bittersweet delight of unbearable poignancy, an achingly brief moment which you wish you could have put in a bottle like vintage wine. Heck, all the songs benefited from this process of blending avant-garde doo-wop and Gesualdo madrigal singing, by way of angst-ridden post-punk groanings. I’ll say it again – This Heat always wrote great songs, and didn’t just make a “noise” or free-form experiments in the studio. Let’s move the spotlight away from Scott Walker’s latest over-contrived pieces for one moment, and give Charles Hayward his due as a composer.

Pause. Perhaps my readers would like a more prosaic account of the evening at The Barbican. Well, This Is Not This Heat came on after the interval, preceded by two solo sets by the original members. The one by Charles Hayward was a mix of icy-cold romantic and melancholy songs with him performing on the grand piano and crooning. But he also moved strangely about the stage rattling percussion. Even more strangely wheeling a speaker around in a pram. The speaker made a droning sound. Hayward wailed like a baby, but this seemed to have been part of a much wider domestic narrative about a sad commuter returning to his “happy” home in the evening. A bleak view of life to be sure, but an honest one. Hayward was not one for effusive communication with his fans, and entered and left the stage with a very becoming deal of modesty. Charles Bullen, who now cuts a remarkable figure with his Victorian whiskers, was even less demonstrative. Barely looking at us, he sat behind his table on which may have been mounted a prepared guitar of some sort, and set to work with deliberation. What emerged was incredibly minimal tones in a slew of repeated phrases that nearly drove this listener mad – a kind of restricted cross between electronic Gamelan and Terry Riley. Yet something struck home. Overheard in the lobby afterwards: “Yeah, but you can still hear This Heat in that stuff, somehow.” Good observation, stranger. In between these acts: screening of a film by the 1970s structuralist film-maker John Smith called The Black Tower. unlike Peter Gidal and the more hard-core members of the London Film-Makers Co-op, Smith decided to meet the audience halfway, and went back to telling stories in the 1980s, hence this unsettling suburban fable about the pernicious and unseen effects of an unknown outer force (most likely a metaphor for monopoly capitalism).

Then This Is Not This Heat after the interval. A crowd-pleasing ending with green laser lights. Who would have thought that it would be possible to play ‘24 Track Loop’, originally a concoction of the studio mixing desk, on stage? Hayward may say it’s now possible to do that because technology has improved now, but I think there are other factors, other reasons that have brought matters to this point.

To try and explain what I mean, let’s revisit that collaborative theme. At one level, I think it means something that it takes 14 musicians to build one This Heat, indicating the power of the original trio must have been…quite considerable. But I am probably imagining those 1980s gigs (I never saw the band at the time) to have been more than they were. But perhaps it also takes 14 musicians to create this reconstruction, this reimagination of the songs and the tunes, to make them even greater than before. The nuances and details are all there on the original records – incidentally inviting one to go back and re-examine those grooves, where not a single second was wasted in communicating through sound, gesture, word, music, editing, layering…

The team effort also says something to me about how, through music, we can build on stage a working model of how human relations could change, how society could work better. Even if it’s just for two hours on stage, we can learn from it. John Stevens, the UK improviser, believed strongly in this possibility, and manifested it in all of his directed team efforts, harnessing the energy of great musicians to show a way of living, working and doing that was a model of how a co-operative society could work. I’ve always thought This Heat believed in that too; at the Barbican, they proved it.

Some media write-ups and appraisals have pointed out the gap between the original This Heat and this event; for instance, the concert handout tells us it’s been 40 years since the band’s first gig in 1976. Well, maybe this isn’t really a gap; I would argue that it has in fact been a necessary waiting process, a maturation. The band This Heat had to exist in the 1970s and 1980s, in order to influence musicians Thurston Moore and many others (becoming a “cult” band, I suppose, much as I hate that term), and the impact of their work sunk into the culture in a gradual way. Think of it as a slow release of benign energy, a healing and changing power. The time is now right for that cycle to complete; by bringing their own history, with This Heat DNA mixed into it, the 14 musicians were able to realise the “perfect” version of This Heat we saw in March 2017. If I am right in these fervoured ravings, maybe the event says something about the way culture ought to happen; it’s not instant, it’s slow, and mysterious, but when it works – it’s a glorious and unstoppable force for good.

Comparisons therefore with, say, Young Marble Giants, and their reunion gigs, are probably not in the same league. I love YMG and their 1980 album. But somehow their music got hermetically sealed into a 1980-1981 time capsule, and its influence has not really rooted itself in culture, other than being a reference for “hip” bands to name-check, often by people who have little real understanding of their music. I am fairly sure their “reunion” gig at Meltdown in 2015 (I did not attend) would have been pretty much the exact same songs played the exact same way, with no evidence of a deepening process. Sure, a rock fan addicted to the cult of personality and some idea of “authenticity” might well say that seeing the “original members” trumps everything. But This Is Not This Heat gives us a different angle on that. This is Not This Heat, it’s This Heat Plus.

  1. Hayward has spoken movingly of the songs greeting him like old friends, saying “where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you”.

Funny Aminals

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Here’s the latest release from Tetrix, the oddball Canadian pop-experimenters from Calgary. Recent releases have been vehicles for radio plays, where the band would splice their warpoid pop songs into a sustained narrative complete with sound effects, characters, and unexpected payoffs, almost creating a mini-movie for the ears. With this new Cat-Headed item, which may be called Tetrix 14, the band write to say “we’ve returned to the basics…just music, no radio play”. Accordingly here are 18 songs segued together in a loose suite, and it’s a very satisfying listen. No annoying “wacky” cartoon voices getting in the way and it’s possible to concentrate more on the music.

Tetrix can’t help parodying and pastiching, and on this occasion we hear quasi-psychedelic songs, electropop, acoustic ballads just dripping with too much fake echo, cod-reggae, rap, and their white-bread idea of how to do R&B / soul songs…it can come across as contrived and synthetic, and this is no doubt why Tetrix are perceived to be insincere pranksters, but if you draw this conclusion too hastily you will miss out on some finely crafted pieces of work. They are skilled musicians, and know how to construct a song using old-fashioned craft; under the plastic surface of the over-cooked studio effects, there is real passion and emotion in the singing, and many of these pieces are genuinely affecting.

Tetrix have a facility which many would envy; perhaps it goes too far, and they find it so easy to construct a song that they have to set themselves the additional challenge of doing it in a different style every time, just to keep themselves fresh. I know that Frank Zappa would discipline (some would call it “bullying”) his touring bands to the point that they had not only learned all the material by heart, they could play the same tunes in a half-dozen different tempos and styles, all based on the finger-pointings of the musical director. Natch, this being Zappa, said musical styles were often heavily parodic and full of audible sneers, especially when he and the band attempted to play in a “reggae” style. Without knowing the musicians in Tetrix personally, I would like to think they’re not pursuing the same agenda as that Grand Cynic.

If you like melody, songcraft, songs and tunes – all given a strange twist by a very curious and unusual approach to studio production – then permit me to recommend this album. As usual with this band, they have opted for a zany shaped cover for a limited edition CD. “The cover is a three colour silkscreen (yours glows in the dark),” states the accompanying letter. “It comes in 35 colour combos!” From 26 April 2016.

Shark Or Dolphin?

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Various
Psst! Wanna Buy A Record?
NO LABEL LP (2015)

This unusual absurdist LP and book package was handed over to me in June 2015 by a friendly Scottish fellow who used to be a presence (if not the main man) behind Diskono, a highly marginal label dedicated to experimental art-techno records that managed to release a small but cherishable bundle of oddities from around 1998 to 2001, including the insane clear LP called Unattainable Text. Some of these rum items found their way to the Sound Projector offices at the time. I certainly liked their occasional Felix Kubin release, such as the ten-incher Jane B. Ertrinkt Mit Den Pferden, but equally a lot their stuff baffled and perplexed me. Last year I met the Scot at a record event at Hackney flea-market, where I’d gone to meet up with Jos, the fellow behind Meeuw Muzak. Jos operates from Belgium, where I think the Diskono Scot is also currently based. But who knows for sure?

Similar uncertainties abound with the record itself. It’s a vinyl reissue of Psst! Wanna Buy A Tape? 1, an artefact which emerged in 1986 as a cassette tape on El Frenzy Productions, an adjunct to an issue of the El Frenzy underground comic. The vinyl version is slightly truncated, and has been rescued from a digitised copy of the original tape provided for this project by Ed Baxter. On it, you’ll find 19 fractured avant-pop songs by some English geniuses of post-punk music: Bing Selfish (who compiled the original tape) and various groups he appeared in, such as Lenin Lads (with Chris Gray) and Bing Selfish and The Sycophants; also in evidence are key members of The Homosexuals, including Amos and Lepke Buchvalter, who were responsible for a slew of confusing and brilliant records under the label It’s War Boys. There’s also such luminaries as Chris Gray, Victorr Lounge, Montse Caselles, and bona fide art rocker Mick Hobbs, also a member of The Work, Family Fodder, and Officer!. Jim Welton appears here aliased as ludicrous one-shot fictional bands, such as The Tennis Ball’s Bigger Than The Golf Ball and Appel Singh Bankboy’s Five O’ Clock Train. None of this madness so far takes into account the various shifting forms of Orchestre Murphy or The Murphy Federation. What a bewildering time in UK underground rock history…no Rock Family Tree can capture it; the story is a glorious muddle where the players concerned have done their utmost to escape being pressed into the pages of history, through a combination of aliases, misinformation, and sheer elusive zaniness. Anarchic liberation through imagination. “They’ll never put me in a bag”. The enclosed 16pp booklet muddies the waters still further. It contains an interview with Bing Selfish conducted by “Dr. Kosten Koper”, where intriguing facts (if indeed they are facts) leak out among reams of cut-up drivel and drunken free-association rambling, and the reading experience is scrambled through collage and insertions taken from old issues of El Frenzy. If you’re nostalgic for the days of photocopied fanzines from the 1980s, this meshugana publication alone should be worth the price.

The music and songs are great too though. While not always quite as extreme as the wild studio experiments we associate with The Homosexuals, L. Voag and Milk From Cheltenham, the eccentric charm and mannered schizophrenia of these loopy ditties guarantees instant brain-implosion, and will soon bring any sensible latterday Dadaist to their knees, either out of sheer joy or exasperation. Fans who enjoyed The Raincoats, The Pop Group or Family Fodder from the early 1980s may have a head start in coming to terms with this (slightly later) mutant form of lively, syncopated gibberish based on everything from 1960s beat-combo pop afflicted with dub techniques to warped soundtracks from non-existent sci-fi TV shows, where every note is informed by a healthy dose of surreal nonsense, which affects the song construction and the performance as much as the lyrics. In short, very little is sacred and nothing is taken seriously, much like the radical political satire that (I assume) flew off the pages of Bing’s original El Frenzy fanzine. It’s zany fun, but there’s something slightly nasty and abrasive about it too. It stands a chance of seriously warping your brain, especially after prolonged exposure.

At a time when the Milk From Cheltenham LP has been “rescued” by those earnest Americans who run the Superior Viaduct label and added to their eclectic vinyl reissue programme for the delectation of the bearded hipsters who frequent Cafe Oto, it’s a pleasure to have additional pieces of the fugitive jigsaw served up to us in barely-digestible form like this LP, where it’s almost impossible for the listener / reader to get a purchase on what we’re hearing or reading. Even if we did manage to assemble the jigsaw, the finished picture wouldn’t even make sense. While Psst! Wanna Buy A Record? is completely chaotic in its rough-edge fanzine styled presentation, this strategy helps to keep the music raw and alive; Superior Viaduct by contrast are tending to put everything in a museum vitrine and thereby hastening its gradual decay. Good luck finding a copy of Psst!; I see one Danish dealer on Discogs wants over £40 for it at time of writing. As for the original tape, you or I will never see a copy.

Update: try this online shop Underbelly

Also see the Bandcamp Page

  1. The title makes me think of this Underground Comix from 1972, a product commissioned by Alan Douglas to help sell LPs on his label.

Boogie Transformation

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Most excellent album in the form of While The Recording Engineer Sleeps (STAUBGOLD 138) by The Cocoon, a 1985 recording reissued with aplomb by the lovely Staubgold label…this one-time studio affair was a team-up starring the great jazzman Gunter Hampel leading the assault and carrying the master plan in his pouch, aided by various German underground art-rock geniuses of the 1980s and 1990s…namely Jurgen Gleue, a guitarist and bassist who achieved notoriety as captain of 39 Clocks – a latterday-psychedelic garage band who released several intriguing albums in the early 1980s – and later as The Phantom Payn in the 1990s. Guitarist and keyboard player Matthias Arfmann, who played in 1980s indie combo Kastrierte Philosophen, but is also famed as a producer. Plus the drummer Rüdiger Klose, who’s played in most of the other bands named above… main man Gunter Hampel was the real “veteran” of the group and probably familiar to many through his free jazz work since the 1970s, with numerous releases on the Birth Records label and collaborations with Cecil Taylor, Marion Brown, and The New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra with Don Cherry.

This improbably wonderful band recorded their work at Studio Harderberg in Osnabrück, apparently while the engineer was fast asleep – perhaps meaning that they did it during studio down-time. Unless he fell asleep on the job in studio. But it would be hard to imagine that scenario while hearing this semi-insane and lively racket, a free-wheeling melange of jazz, blues, and queasy underground rock with added vocals. Fans of Embryo, the Munich jazz-rock collective founded by Christian Burchard and Edgar Hofmann, are advised to check in – I say this mainly for the way that Gunter’s sparkling vibraharp work dominates many of the instrumental passages, but The Cocoon are a unique proposition of their own, with their relentless rhythms half-rocking and half-swinging their way across bizarre LSD-tinged productions with spooky studio echo and multi-overdubbed excess…another strong point is the eerie vocalising, mostly emanating like dusty spirits from the mouths of Gleue and Hampel, both men projecting a curious range of emotions and forcing out mannered mumbly vocals as if half-asleep, stoned, drunk, or tripping…plus there’s the solid & heavy rhythm section, thrashing relentlessly away with all the ham-fisted Germanic passion and lack of subtlety that’s both enriched and bedevilled most Krautrock and German Progressive LPs throughout the 1970s.

All the above elements and genres conspire to make The Cocoon’s sole album a dark melting pot of hippy dreams and free music ideals…said dreams are not tarnished nor frayed with age, and instead they come back to a new life (a slightly dark, semi-Satanic form of life) in the crucible of The Cocoon’s cauldron. Powerful alchemical forces unleash the best elements of jazz and rock’s history, making good on the promises of freedom we’ve long heard whispered. Net result…unclassifiable, immensely enjoyable, near-riotous fun and haunted by many undercurrents of sheer oddness, this album is a true curio whose reissue is more than welcome. Purchase forthwith, and then check out the work of these other righteously heavy German indie bands, starting with 39 Clocks, assuming you can find their records. From 30th April 2015, a vinyl pressing also available…

Collision Tempo Brain

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Kicked Back Into The Crypt (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR131 / SOPHOMORE LOUNGE SL054) is a split LP by Guerilla Toss and Sediment Club, two instances of weird far-out American bands who both seem determined to up the ante on the musical underground of the last 40 years, starting from punk and post-punk, and have set their sights on being crazier and wilder than any given antecedent you care to name as you rummage lovingly through your boxes of rare seven-inches. The LP is a joint release with Sophomore Records and to my chagrin we’ve had it hanging fire in the LP waiting line since 2013. With a cover like this, you’d think I’d have gotten to it sooner.

We noted Guerilla Toss, a five-piece from Boston, some time ago with their fine album Jeffrey Johnson. I was struck then by Kassie Carlson’s singing and by Ian Kovac JR’s amazing synth work, and today I see no reason whatsoever to revise nor rescind my earlier estimation. In fine, they play a crazy screechy punkified din which is highly enriched by the unhinged, squiggly electronics; Carlson is the sort of near-confrontational singer who won’t let you off the hook, and if you listen long enough you’ll find yourself owning up to crimes you never even committed. On their side of the split, all the songs segue into an unstoppable, delirious mess of high-energy, as good as a live set in a seedy cellar.

Besides the sensations of manic joy they generate, Guerilla Toss leave an impression of incoherence, babbling-in-tongues. Not so for Sediment Club, a New York combo whose work is represented on the B side. Somewhat darker in tone and more frowny than their Boston compadres, the New Yorkers have a (male) lead singer who is clearly trying to tell us something, and while I haven’t transcribed his entire lyrical output here to analyse the content in any depth, I’ve got an immediate impression of a ranter, a preacher, someone trying to teach us a lesson about something. The sustained argument of his declaimed songs is ably supported – up to a point – by some heavy-handed but aggressive punk noise, where again the synth plays a useful role and supplied some heavily alienating swooshy wind effects that chill the brain and bring goosebumps to the flesh. The drumming is pretty basic though, and the ineptitude of the rhythm section tends to expose some of the deficiencies of these songs, which feel a little under-finished. Even so the overall tone of menace which Sediment Club generate is a strong point in their favour. They’re a little like the Flipper to the X-Ray Spex of Guerilla Toss.

Venceremos

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The cassette tape Wir Triumphieren: Bergedorfs Kinderbandszene 1981-1986 (ALARM AT013) purports to be a compilation of early, unheard and unreleased music from the West German New Wave punk-electronic scene…many of them connected to a cassette label called Grotesk…and what’s more all the bands and projects were apparently teenagers and young boys aged between 9 and 15 at the time. It’s a vibrant snapshot of 1980s history, a missing piece in the jigsaw of Neue Deutsche Welle, joining the dots between post-punk rock music and high-powered electronic racket made on cheap Casio keyboards, and a testament to the ingenuity of the unstoppable flaming youths who produced such powerful and entertaining avant-pop music. Or…is it?

I’ll hazard a guess that this is another brilliant hoax / pastiche thing from the mind and fingers of Felix Kubin, the same genius who gave the world Historische Aufnahmen 1 in 2009 on his own Gargarin Records label, an LP pressing crammed with too-good-to-be true “lost” fragments from the history of 20th century culture, such as a David Tudor rehearsal tape and a 1938 recording of the Finland telephone exchange. When the press notes slaver about Casio keyboards, drum machines and 4-track cassette recorders, I expect a lot of audience buttons are being pressed already, but a quick search for any recordings or performances made before or since by Die Egozentrischen 2, Gelegenheitsexperimente, X2, and Universalanschluss doesn’t yield much in the way of results. Did these bands exist? I’m quite prepared to believe Kubin was a child prodigy (as you know, this magazine loves just about everything he does), and years ago he did release records called The Tetchy Teenage Tapes Of Felix Kubin for A-Musik and Teenage Tapes for Minimal Wave – but these may simply be more red herrings, spread in the path to bolster the ingenious fiction.

None of this matters though. The tape is a total blaster and an extremely enjoyable set of super-fast, manic, noisy clattery electronic distorto-nonsense, where for the most part it’s indeed hyperactive and arrogant enough to have been produced by 1980s snotty teenage brats hopped up on sugary cereals and the German equivalent of bags of Monster Munch. Beside Kubin himself, his buddies Alexander Dahm, Matthias Brosch, Ronald Grimm, and Stefan Mohr may all have something to do with this elaborate concoction, be it fake or no. If the former, I only wish there had been a West German band called Der Leichenwäscher Von Boberg, which translates as “The Corpse-Washer of Boberg”. C’mon. No self-respecting adolescent could have resisted snapping up the back catalogue of the Corpse-Washer…and just imagine what the tape covers would have looked like! Red and black skulls, rivers of blood, collages of old engravings, strange runic carvings…from 22 December 2014.

Unknown Origins

DennisY

Dennis Young
Reel To Real
GERMANY STAUBGOLD 137 CD (2014)

From 15 December 2014 a solo album by Dennis Young, mostly drumming-based, with songs and electronics. Young is currently a composer / musician / songster who enjoys a wide range of tastes and influences on his music, and while I never heard his 2004 solo album Old Dog : New Tricks all the way through, the available tracks on YouTube suggest his capability and fluency with an accomplished mix of styles including Latinesque and jazzy rhythms, very percussion-led naturally, and with a copy of Bitches Brew kept within reach. Reel To Real is from an earlier time however, when Young was still the drummer and marimba player for Liquid Liquid in the 1980s, and when not performing with them he made his own solo recordings at home on a Teac reel-to-reel tape recorder using his drum kit, analogue synths, guitars, and effects. Since he switched to a cassette four-track machine in 1984, he kind of forgot about these early reels until fairly recently. He dusted them down and was pleasantly surprised at how well the material held up. After a bout of editing in 2014, we now have this Staubgold release.

It’s an uneven record, though. We’ve got some very strong tracks at the front of the album: ‘Big Boom’ achieving great results with just a single echoed vocal declaiming randomly over a precise tribal beat; ‘Gravitation’, where the effortless and airy syncopation between the ethereal vocal and drumming is something any band would give their left arm to record; and ‘Panic In The Air’, an epic composition of sequencers, mad synths, and deranged vocalising very much in the Suicide mould and capturing all of the early-1980s New York angst we could wish for, even if it was recorded in New Jersey. If these three tracks alone were on available on a 12-inch single, you’d have a powerful and desirable record.

Thereafter it’s another 13 tracks of home experiments of varying success; at best, some interesting ideas are set in motion but not quite completed, while at worst Young is merely doodling and playing around with his set-up with no apparent end in view. There are songs such as ‘Little Girl’ and ‘Aliens’ where his voice, minus the amplification and effects, is revealed to be rather thin, struggling to express itself against an attenuated, muffled guitar. These recordings weren’t intended for public consumption in the first place, and Young has made a careful selection from a much larger stockpile to create this release. It also shouldn’t reflect on the contribution he made to Liquid Liquid, a band which transformed from a punky group called Liquid Idiot into the more percussion-heavy combo which made a number of fine singles for 99 Records in the early 1980s. Two of their claims to fame: they invented the term “Big Beat”, which became a very trendy thing among 1980s UK record producers; and one of their records was sampled on the single “White Lines”.

Lift Off

Nagamatzu

The Neural Interval CD (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 084-2) is a comprehensive round-up of just about everything recorded by Nagamatzu, an English cassette band duo from the 1980s-early 1990s, whose members were Stephen Jarvis and Andrew Lagowski. Curiously we first came across Lagowski’s stuff through his solo dark ambient music under the name S.E.T.I., in which guise he also collaborated with Disinformation and Lustmord. Stephen Jarvis provides a concise history of their endeavours in the printed insert, and the duo make plain their preoccupations with Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, and The Buzzcocks, and the DIY aesthetic that prompted them to start playing music in the first place; many music fans will get a frisson from reading about their DIY set-up, with reel-to-reel tape recorder and drum machine supplementing the guitar, electronics, and bass guitar. They even had a slide show projection as part of the stage act (as did early Human League, if I recall), and they wax nostalgic about the possibilities of home-made industrial music at the end of the 1970s; the printed text is surrounded by monochrome images, including xerox tape covers, which are sure to gladden the heart of many readers. And Nagamatzu had a cryptic “runic” emblem, pictured on the front cover here, which was evidently the done thing for any post-TG band. It’s a tic that extended well into the 1990s; my back issues of N.D. magazine are packed with reproductions of such emblems.

However, the two-disc set is sequenced in reverse order, so it begins not with the old-school analogue industrial, but with Igniting The Corpse. This was their 1991 album issued as a cassette on Motorcade, and which was an all-electronic statement, presumably created mostly on sequencers and programmers (with a bass guitar added “for old time’s sake”). It’s a strong set of clatter-and-grind songs with a grim edge, replete with sampled voices adding slogans and unsettling declamations to what is mostly an instrumental album. If you’re a fan of Trent Reznor or Ministry but find their airless music too overpowering, Nagamatzu’s less cluttered mix may seem more approachable, with no appreciable sacrifices made on the remorseless power-beat front.

On disc two, we get their 1986 full-length album Sacred Islands of the Man, issued as a cassette in the US by Mystery Hearsay; a very varied set of synth-pop instrumentals, some of them with slightly dark and angsty edge, some of them exhibiting a romantic side with melodic guitar or keyboard layers. No space is left unfilled if there’s an opportunity for a rhythmic interpolation, be it from a drum machine or synth. Very credible effort. Lastly there’s their debut, the 1983 cassette Shatter Days; originally just five tracks, of which ‘These Are Your Friends’ is excluded from this comp for some reason. Interestingly in terms of “methodology” it’s fairly clear from this early work that the duo were still finding their way around, compared to the assurance you can hear just three years later; they’re almost “jamming” with beats, riffs and synth tones. But in terms of the sound, these early tracks are my favourites, as they seem so pure and uncluttered, from a time before the duo discovered how to do seamless multiple overdubs and fill up the space with clattery rhythms.

Also here is the three-track 12-incher Space Shuttle Shuffle from 1987, one of a few instances that indulges their preoccupation with space travel / NASA imagery, a rather overcooked set with too many lush synths for this listener. “Forgotten gems from the analogue era hidden in basements have been popping up in the digital age”, slaver the press notes. I agree; two notables that we’ve received here in recent years include the Neghantil box set, and Musiikkivyöry on Ektro Records. A very good rescue job this one is, and worth seeking out. From 18 November 2014.