Tagged: songs

Now I Am Beyond Belief

You may recall us raving about this Hen Ogledd LP in 2016, a great LP resulting from the team-up of avant-harpist Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson, the English folk singer and scholar who created the remarkable record The Glass Trunk in 2013 (on which Rhodri played, come to think of it). Well, these two have now turned Hen Ogledd into a band or project of some sort, and here’s their LP Bronze (ALT-VINYL AV069), an astonishing six tracks of musical noise realised with the help of Dawn Bothwell, plus guest players Laura Cannell and Jeff Henderson.

That’s Richard’s artwork on the front cover, a collage called ‘Golden Person’, and with its near-anonymous implacable stare and inscrutable alien visage, this face immediately clues you in that you’re about to spin a very special record. From the opening track I thought we might be embarking on some pagan-mystery theme, rich in dark magick and old straight tracks and stone monuments…it’s called ‘Ancient Data’, an evocative title if ever there was…and on one level may summon up visions of early astronaut visitors and dreams inspired by Erich Von Daniken, or more simply may be a fancy way of referring to archaeology. However, musically it’s an uncategorisable sound, and only the voice work of Dawn Bothwell and the haunting recorders of Cannell might substantiate my theory, adding a mystical folk-flavour to the strange electronic and plucked jumble of inventiveness.

As to that, I suppose a cursory read of the credit notes may give some small indication of what Davies and Dawson were doing at Blank Studios under the watchful ear of Sam Grant (who recorded it), and once again Rhodri is amplifying and electrifying his harps to produce intense, astringent noise and bone-shattering drones, even surpassing his incredible work on Wound Response (amplification and distortion used for devastating results). But he also plays the loudhailer, nails, and marble. Richard Dawson’s credit list is even more arcane, including a number of things which might seem more at home inside a witch’s cupboard than in a recording studio; I could read these two lines of text over and over, until they resemble a form of poetry.

I say this in some attempt to account for the uncanny force and deliberation behind these eerie sounds, at times crude and brutal as the best post-punk band that ever existed, at times ringing together with a spiritual harmony and peacefulness that puts the listener at one with the universe, such as on ‘Beyond Belief’, a superb English update on the music of Popl Vuh. Perhaps Dawn Bothwell, with her synths, effects, and mostly her singing voice, is doing something to temper the alien-inspired antics of the two male players, and her sweetening influence is most evident on the short but gorgeous ‘Gwawr in Reverse’. But she also ends the album with her spunky lyrics to ‘Get My Name Right Or Get Out!’, a title which needs no explanation, and a song which comes over as feisty as a combination of Poly Styrene and Honey Bane.

There’s also the uncanny epic sprawl of ‘Gondoliers’ (the A side of this LP is so right-on it just destroys) and a real misfit on the B-side called ‘Amputated Video’. The broken electronic yawp of this gem has to be heard to be believed; so many English players aspire to capture the truth of the Radiophonic Workshop in their synth-led tributes, but this is the real goods, something which has crawled out of a demented dream-version of 1970s BBC daytime television like a manifestation of all your worst Dr Who fears. I think this record wipes the floor with a lot of contemporary pretenders who dabble in “ceremonial” or “pagan” music without any real understanding of what they mean, and the breadth of its sonic ambition is enormous. Truly astounding, and highest recommendation for this incredible piece of work. From 15th November 2016.

Love and Peace: a beautiful set of highly expressive solo piano performances

Girma Yifrashewa, Love & Peace, Unseen Worlds, CD UW13 (2014)

Lovers of highly expressive solo piano performances and fans of Ethiopian traditional / folk music genres are in for an unexpected treat in this album of five short piano-only pieces by Girma Yifrashewa. Throughout this recording Yifrashewa expresses his hopes for love, understanding and harmony among all the peoples of the world; and celebrates aspects of Ethiopian culture, Christian Orthodox spirituality and the majesty of Ethiopia’s physical geography. The album’s pared-down style – this is all just Yifrashewa and his piano, no more and no less – demonstrates the man’s skill in coaxing an astonishing array of emotions and moods, often in the space of just a few minutes.

Each track is distinctive in its own way and has very individual melodies and motifs, some of which however can be familiar to armchair students of Ethiopian music – this is especially so of the sombre track “Semenen” which uses a key or mode of traditional Ethiopian music that shows up on some of my copies of various of Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques releases. While each song can express a variety of feelings, overall one or two emotions are dominant, from the mostly wistful and plaintive “The Shepherd With The Flute” to the celebratory “Chewata” and the dark and intense “Semenen”, a piece that refers to a transitory state between being dead and being alive. The album starts on a fairly hopeful and upbeat note and from the fourth track on develops a more ambivalent and complex landscape of feelings and moods. But whatever the mood is on a particular song, it’s sure to capture the listener’s attention and hold it spellbound.

Beautiful in its apparent simplicity yet turning out to be more complicated than it appears, and giving the impression that it has much more to say than it’s already doing, this album has a very strong hypnotic quality. It can be surprisingly soothing as well even as it acknowledges the darker, sadder moments of life. You won’t believe that solo piano compositions can be so succinct in pinning down the complexity of human feeling and desire.

It’s One O’Clock and Time For Lunch

Repetitions Of The Old City – I (NO LABEL) is the fifth album from Jack O’ The Clock, the unique American band led by Daimon Waitkus. We previously heard All My Friends followed by Night Loops, both of which prompted rapturous prose from this listener and a tendency to liken Waitkus to many American mavericks in the fields of pop music, poetry, and classical composition. Based on today’s spin I see no need to rescind any previous observations.

Other hallmarks of excellence stand out in this selection of nine highly unusual songs. There’s the contributions of the other players, especially the violin and viola of Emily Packard, and the woodwinds of Kate McLoughlin, which do much to add to the exotic old-time flavour of these highly contrived rustic gems (Waitkus assembles his songs as if following a blueprint for making Shaker furniture). Packard’s violin has no trouble following the impossible time signatures of these elaborate compositions; her instrument simply dances, floats in the sky. Waitkus’s songs are ingenious with their unexpected chord sequences and clashing tonalities, and the very inventive melodies whose intervals shouldn’t really work at all, yet they work perfectly. To say nothing of the abstruse and erudite lyrics, with their multi-syllabic thoughts packed into singable melodies. I also see Waitkus is quite the octopus when it comes to playing several instruments – guitar, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, pianet, guzheng and flute are all in his credit roster, making him a match for Alan Sondheim (who made Ritual-All-7-70 for ESP-Disk in 1967). I think Waitkus and Sondheim should get into a gun-fighting showdown someday over instrumental prowess, but Waitkus would probably win on points with his song-writing gifts.

The other observation that occurs to me today is that Jack O’ The Clock (although they are as American as 100 Apple Pies) are not that far apart from classic English prog rock of the 1970s which I love so much, especially Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, a band whose eccentricity, mannered vocals and skilful arrangements feel very much of apiece with the music of Damon Waitkus. The acoustic guitars are reminiscent of Mike Rutherford and his 12-string, and there are even flute solos, like on ‘Firth Of Fifth’…I rest my case. High recommendation for this peculiar strain of art rock. As far as I know Jack O’ The Clock are still not signed to a label and do self-releases of everything. This one is so wilfully obscure they don’t even put their name on the front or back cover. From 11 November 2016.

Hartley’s Jam

Hartley C. White was born in Jamaica but has lived in Queens New York for several decades. He’s been active since the mid-1980s, mostly self-releasing music, and a selection from his back catalogue appeared on the OSR Tapes label in 2014, called This Is Not What You Expect. Very active today, there’s a string of his records available through CDBaby such as Run The Gauntlet, Coming Out Fighting, Face The Music, and more. Today’s release is called Something Better (OSR TAPES OSR77) and is credited to Hartley C. White And Friends; among these friends are Zach Phillips, Christina Schneider, plus the lead guitarists Quentin Moore and Vinny Giannettino, percussionist Larry McDonald (who’s played with Lee Perry, Taj Mahal, Gil Scott-Heron and other notables), and sax player Kate Mohanty. Hartley himself plays multiple instruments, but he’s mostly a rapper / poet – and all the tracks here were built around his main vocal performance, with the instrumental overdubs gradually opening out to unfold the vision of the composer; the musicians worked to White’s extensive notes, indicating he possesses a very clear idea of what he wishes to achieve.

Hartley C. White’s vocal delivery is pretty much unique. Apparently it’s based not on conventional singing lessons, but on his martial arts technique. White has been a student of marital arts since 1966, and there’s a particular Bruce Lee move that inspired the “broken rhythms” of this unusual herky-jerky sung-speech. He himself calls it “Who-pa-zoo-tic Music”, and even called his record label by the same name. The words aren’t loping out carelessly, but are delivered with the intensity of a very accurate body blow. Don’t be fooled by the apparent insouciance in White’s tone; there’s a steely conviction in every syllable. There’s also a lot of passion in the lyrics, which dissect hypocrisy and dishonesty with the skill of a brain surgeon, in a highly compacted manner. Although a lot of these songs are short, mostly around the two or three minute mark, it’s evident that a lot of preparatory effort has been poured into their construction. The musicians perform an impressive feat keeping up with these unusual rhythms and non-symmetric patterns, and their instrumental contributions are spare and lean, punching home the meanings of each song. The net result is extremely unusual, constantly surprising the listener with its stop-start twists and turns. From 28th October 2016.

Grenadine Blood

The CD Stars Vomit Coffee Shop (OSR TAPES OSR72) by Frank Kogan is a 2016 reissue of a compilation that originally came out in 1986, self-released by Kogan with annotations and now here in CD form with a rejigged cover by Christine Schneider. It’s a fab set of post-punk songs recorded by Kogan solo or with his bands The Pillowmakers and Red Dark Sweet, and covers a period from 1981 to 1984. Kogan is an unabashed fan of 1960s rock and pop music, as he admits upfront in his sleeve note, as he listened to this stuff growing up in the 1960s and gives us a long list that covers everyone from The Kinks to The Electric Prunes and The Monkees, but he also adored The Velvet Underground. You know you can trust a man who says “I couldn’t listen to ‘96 Tears’ because it upset me too much’; he tries to account for the delicious sense of alienation that was hard-wired into the music of The Rolling Stones, and their many imitators, and was drawn to singers whose voice was used as an instrument – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan.

The CD more or less charts his progress in New York as he worked his way through musical ideas that would give expression to his inner torment. He went from post-Velvets hard-lipped sneering to a wayward cross-breed of disco and punk, in the form of the trio The Pillowmakers, then found his way back to his roots with Red Dark Sweet. Kogan is a mite hard on himself and thinks his experiments don’t really come off, but I would beg to differ. In 1983 The Pillowmakers recorded ‘Linda Lu Pissed On Hitler’s Kneecap’ – Stefano Arata on bass, Carol Meinke on drums – which is a two-minute gem. It sounds like Lou Reed rapping a lost chapter from ‘Sister Ray’ to a disco beat. This song might contain trace elements of Kogan’s bid to bring “swinging blues and funk” elements to his music, after his friend Rich Campo had suggested he listen to James Brown records in the late 1970s. Kogan’s plan was to enlarge the “emotional range” of punk by crossing it with disco, and he thinks he didn’t succeed, but I’m not sure if we have any recordings from this period on the CD. These Pillowmakers tracks might not represent this period, but they are endearing and straightforward blasts of garage-enriched guitar swipes combined with elliptical syncopated bass rhythms, sure to appeal to fans of Magazine or Fire Engines. 1

By 1981 Kogan had met Andrew Klimek and Charlotte Pressler, and formed Red Dark Sweet – they were the core members, though drummers Donna Ratajczak, Rick Brown and John Spuzzillo also appear on some recordings. The 1982 tracks offered here were recorded on a cassette player “lying on the floor”. The songs here are closest in spirit and sound to The Velvet Underground, but it seems Andrew and Charlotte were musical omnivores with wide-ranging record collections, and showed Kogan new possibilities for freedom in the music of VU, for instance with improvisation and noise experimentation. These elements are most in evidence on the 15-minute workout ‘Mrs. Hanson / What’s That Sound I Hear?’, without a doubt their attempt to remake ‘European Son’ on their own lo-fi terms.

I like these free-wheeling and discursive Red Dark Sweet tracks, but there’s also a lot to be said for Kogan’s pop-influenced song style. The four opening cuts on the CD were recorded in 1984 and to me they’re near-flawless examples of songcraft, often delivered with just one guitar and a voice. Strong melody, simple riffs, and very concise; everything a song should be. Frank Kogan surely deserves to be located near J Mascis in the canon of American post-punk songwriters.

Hugely enjoyable CD; it’s been a delight to discover this hitherto hidden chapter of American song-based music, a chapter which might perhaps have been swept away the tsunami of 1980s punk that came in the form of Black Flag and all who followed. I’m glad that no attempt was made to clean up the sound; to me it’s like hearing a well-loved and cherished cassette tape lent to you by a friend. Recommended. From 28th October 2016.

  1. Interestingly, many bands in the NDW scene also melded disco and punk starting in 1981, but Kogan makes no mention of this.

You Set The Scene

From OSR Tapes, we have a CD by Marlon Cherry (OSR73) which reissues two of his records – the 12-inch EP Life After Theatre from 1986 and Pete from 1990. This may be something of a rescue job by label boss Zach Phillips, who knows Marlon Cherry personally and is aware of Cherry’s presence in various New York City music scenes – playing at university dance classes, busking in the subway, and as a supporting member of various local bands. Originally from North Carolina, Cherry used to play bass in ANTiSEEN, Jeff Clayton’s punk band which formed in 1983, but he’s also played in Mecca Bodega, Afro-Jersey, Church Of Betty and The Roches. I never heard the music of any of these bands, although many of them are represented on Chris Rael’s label Fang Records in NYC, and their music may include elements of funk, soul, and experimental rock.

The same musical broad-mindedness shows up on all the songs on this CD comp, on which Marlon wrote everything, sings, and plays all the instruments…he’s turned in a hugely enjoyable set of melodic songs, with elements of funky rock, psychedelia and easy listening (he even pays tribute in song to Arthur Lee, an obvious precedent), and with his confident singing Marlon at a stroke reclaims the whole rock’n’soul thing from Hall And Oates, in the service of his highly original songs. Very impressed by Marlon’s facility with playing and singing music, and the unfussy production technique is also a winning plus on both records. Incidentally the 1986 12-incher was produced by Jeff Murdock, who played with Cherry in The Streets Living Theater on their sole record in 1983. The front cover painting to this one, depicting a mysterious urban tragedy, is by Alexander Clark. Delighted to hear this (to me) unknown gem, from 28th October 2016.

David Bowie (self-titled, 1967): 50 years ago today, a star man came out to play

David Bowie, self-titled, Deram Records (1967)

June 1st, 1967, was a significant day in the history of British rock and pop: an album by a highly influential act was released on that day. Naaah, I didn’t have The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in mind, important though that work might be in some people’s eyes. Besides, contrary to what is often believed, that particular recording’s release date was brought forward a week by its label EMI in Britain so the release date was actually May 26, 1967, instead of June 1st, 1967.

No, on that day, that hallowed day, the world was blessed with the release of David Bowie’s self-titled debut album. WHA-A-AT? you say, David Bowie’s first album, the one consigned to mental attics around the world as some unwanted and unloved mad relative of classics like “Low”, “Heroes” and “Station to Station”? Well yes, I want to rescue that album from its current inglorious status as one of the black moments in Bowie’s long history as an artist, equivalent to those seedy little pornographic flicks that famous actors always regret making while they were down on their last dollar as drama graduates way back when in the mists of time. As black moments go, “David Bowie” turns out to be much, much lighter in colour than people, even diehard Bowie fans, might make it out to be – c’mon, folks, can the same be said of other black moments in Bowie’s recording history like “Never Let Me Down”?

Well, I’ll grant that most of the music on “David Bowie” isn’t what you’d expect of an ambitious up-and-coming teenage pop singer: it often sounds twee and the minimal “play safe” approach doesn’t always suit the lyrics on several songs which cover themes and topics such as alienation or lack of connection with others, longing, futuristic dystopias in which irrational crowds follow self-proclaimed messiahs, fluid gender identity, population control, serial killing, necrophilia and paedophilia among others. (Some of these themes were to arise on future Bowie albums again and again.) Certainly the music on songs like “There Is A Happy Land”, which depending on one’s interpretation can carry a chilling message about the alien nature of youth, seems at odds with the track’s theme; on the other hand, its relaxed and stripped-back nature highlights the lyrics and Bowie’s crisp style of singing which varies from one song to the next. Quite a lot of vocal gymnastics is involved and if Bowie had had some training at this point in his career, the album could have been a very remarkable one for his vocal range and adventurous singing. There’s also the possibility that Bowie found juxtaposing dark and disturbing lyrics with seemingly happy or comic music intriguing and amusing, and he would not have been the first (certainly not the last) artist to discover that the happy pop song format is an ideal medium for conveying otherwise sinister messages.

Why Bowie chose to write and record his debut the way he did, with the music, the visually colourful lyrics and the sometimes disturbing messages they carry, we may never fully know. Legend has it his manager at the time, Ken Pitt, may have pressured the young singer into becoming an all-round entertainer with old music hall and vaudeville influences, and recording the album with that goal in mind. The irony of course is that Bowie eventually did become an all-round entertainer by following a different if perhaps more zig-zagging path.

Even so, with all the faults of this approach which ill-suited Bowie, several songs on the album have their own sweet and whimsical charm, and if you let them they can grow on you. Bowie’s singing which sounds surprisingly mature, even a little “old man”-ish for someone of his age, has a very distinct flavour at once intimate yet suggesting its owner might have access to some deep well of gnostic knowledge. The lyrics are often funny, self-deprecating and wry at the same time, and strong visual imagination and inventive, cunning wit are at work here. Bowie’s wacky and bizarre sense of humour – which never ch-ch-ch-changed over the years – is in full flight across several songs with a number of them containing very subtle twists in the tales they tell.

There are songs here (“When I Live My Dream”, “Sell Me A Coat” and “Silly Boy Blue”) that could have been reworked with different music arrangements and re-released, and no-one would guess that they’d been on this album. “Silly Boy Blue”, referencing Bowie’s life-long interest in Tibetan Buddhism, in particular imitates Tibetan-style droning music and rhythms and a later treatment could have incorporated actual drones and invited experimentation. “Join The Gang” enjoys a brief burst of avant jazz improv at its end which could have been extended to cover the whole song.

If one chooses to listen to the whole album just for Bowie’s voice, lyrics and subject matter, one will find very little filler even in songs with the most godawful crap music. With regard to experimentation, several tracks are quite good, given Bowie’s inexperience and the guidance he had, though they could have done with more and one track – it’s my favourite of the whole album – that will surprise listeners is the last song, “Please Mr Gravedigger”, sung entirely a cappella with just ambient effects as accompaniment. Now that’s what I call experimental!

Fifty years ago today, a star man came out to play … it’s time for this particular mad relative to come out of the attic and show us all how really mad it is!

Games People Play

The Four Thing LP (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 290) is a highly unusual art-record of songs created according to the rules of a complex game. Zach Phillips, the prolific New England musician and song-writer, is the main driving force behind this creation, credited with music, direction, and recording; to give the record its full title, it’s “Four Groups Of Four Songs With Words”, and the credited writers are Jeremy Daly (of Lou Breed), Quentin Moore (of Big French, Heat Wilson and Martyr Group), Hanna Novak, and Christine Schneider. They crafted the “libretto” to this avant-garde “opera”, which is sung by Becca Kauffman, Ben Russell, Sami Stevens and Colin White. These are new names to me, but I see Sami Stevens is also part of Tredici Bacci and has sung backup vocals for Gary Wilson, no less.

None of the songs on Four Thing have any titles, and are only identified by their timings. This is unusual, given the large amount of verbiage per square metre contained in these songs. It’s almost too much to follow. It’s a delicious jumble of tasty words, sung and delivered with precision and care by the four vocalists, with never a slurred line – but moving a shade too quickly for us to process. This decoding problem is compounded by the absence of a conventional song structure – no four beats to the bar, no verse-chorus form, no repetitions, or any of the other devices that a pop song writer would use to hammer the point into our heads. Instead, it’s more like a stream of consciousness. Further twists follow. If these songs are stories with characters, it’s very hard to tell who is speaking (or thinking) at any given time; men and women may trade dialogue back and forth, but in this post-modern schema there is little clarity as to the tale, or its meaning. While some of the lines resemble mysterious modernist poetry, while other lines are packed with American slang, and four-letter words pop out in unexpected places. Something of a tension between high-brow and low-brow which we don’t encounter much in modern composition, save for the work of Harry Partch, which this record did make me think of more than once.

It would be one thing for four vocalists to recite these texts like fractured poetry, but to add to our entertainment and wonder it is expressed in song form, and Zach Phillips has put much effort in creating these compacted, non-linear gems of anti-pop music, exhibiting those skills of his we love so much. The voices are the main element, but each song is accompanied by a guitar (sometimes a banjo) played with the effortless grace of a Kenny Burrell, and many tunes occupy a nether world between jazz, pop, country and western and soul music. If it weren’t for the clipped and mannered delivery of the vocals, we could almost be hearing a schematic post-punk rendition of the Halls and Oates catalogue.

Many of the above traits we have previously discerned in the songs of Zach Phillips, and also in the music of Chris Weisman, a friend and collaborator who provided the press notes for this release. Even these notes are unconventional, with Weisman clutching at phrases such as “some unholy chug of gem crashes in the popping by below” in his attempt to describe the process behind this record. He seems to liken it to a computer program. As indicated above, the composition process is based on a game called Four Thing, whose rules are printed on the back cover. I won’t attempt to summarise it, but it’s a highly cerebral memory game or guessing game, one with as many forking paths as a Borges story. Success in this game clearly depends on the players being quite good friends and also of a very intellectual bent. I can see how it would ruin more marriages than the post-mortem after a bad game of bridge, if not handled carefully.

Quentin Moore and Zach Phillips devised this game. It’s not clear to me how we get from this game to the record in question, but I think I can see how the game represents an attempt to lose creative control, to free the artistic mind to go places it normally wouldn’t. I would liken it to a surrealist game, but on the face of it there appears to be no interest in probing the subconscious mind, regardless of how dream-like and uncanny the finished work may be. At this point I’m reminded of the works of Alessandro Bosetti, another gifted conceptualist who is likewise preoccupied with words, and who sets up similar game-like structures for his compositions. A very impressive tour de force. From 18th October 2016.

7th June update: Zach Phillips writes to inform us that “Sarah Smith and Quentin Moore and I devised the game — in that order ! I contributed the least to the invention of the game . would be cool to include Sarah if you don’t mind . thank ye !”

Saint Paul In The Yantra

Welcome return to these pages of Susan Matthews, the fey musician from South Wales from whom we haven’t heard since A Kiss For The Umbrella Man, her highly personal take on the music of Erik Satie, noted in 2012. Her record From Veliko (SIREN WIRE RECORDINGS SW108) is a shortish work, just three tracks in 14 minutes, but it’s a very heartfelt statement. Piano, keyboards, voice and field recordings are used to create a spell-binding mix of songs, tunes, mood pieces, and poetic observations, and the theme is highly emotionally charged. Part of it is derived from an actual trip to Veliko Tarnovo, and the artist’s take on wandering around this beautiful medieval city. She was particularly struck by the hanging houses, which are poised on the edge of a gorge above the Yantra river and in imminent danger of falling into the water, if they haven’t already done so. Crumbling foundations, ancient buildings, clinging onto a precipice – it doesn’t require much imagination to apply these elements to the human condition, and realise how close we all are to tipping over into melancholy, despair, or even madness. Matthews also alludes to “a metaphor for a psychological journey from the darkness of depression back towards the light”, a highly personal revelation, and one which takes some fortitude to admit to and deal with. If Susan Matthews is working out her personal problems through music, she has succeeded admirably with this understated yet highly cathartic music; I defy anyone to hear her fragile voicings and subdued but intense piano work on this record without being deeply moved. From 17th October 2016; was also released by Pilot Eleven.

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.