Thursday, August 28, 2008

Berlin-by David Clay Large

As it goes without saying that the act of writing is extremely difficult, I'll ask the question, "how about reading?" Of the three basic, classic learning criterion, reading seems to be the one that has been shunted to the side. It's my conviction that many people scan, as opposed to read, texts. This is a sad state of affairs, in my opinion. All that said, history texts often warrant no more than scanning. As a person who loves history (easily evidenced by the obsessive collecting bug, the compulsive document search) I find that sad as well. Well written history texts are few and far in between, and when I find one, I heap attention upon it, relishing my time with it in an effort to savor the sublime feelings that arise from it. Berlin is deserving of such hyperbole, in my opinion. David Clay Large's book about the conflict torn and Historically significant city on the Spree River is an extremely compelling one. Large uses fascinating anecdotes and a superbly even handed critical style to give the history of Berlin from the 1870's until 2000. His portrait of Berlin is one that shows a city constantly arising out of Historical flux, rebuilding and reinventing itself, and for the most part finding itself knocked back down again in relatively quick order. The story of Berlin is fascinating and tragic, and Large does a excellent job of telling it. My only minor quibble with his 650 written pages is an anecdote about Johnny Rotten, in which the author accuses him of "[strutting] about in West Berlin, decked out in black leather and swastika tattoos." Rock-n-Roll to David, get your facts straight. Even though Punk was a Pop phenomenon, I think it's safe to say that it too is deserving of historically accurate treatment.
Other than that, this book is an amazing one. Highly enjoyable and recommended without hesitation. If you pick this one up, please give it more than a perfunctory scan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alter-Natives-Hold Your Tongue

The historical record has not been kind to Alter-Natives. I have a Forced Exposure from '87 or so in which Coley pans them. Dave Lang consigned them to SST's mistake bin in his great '98 Perfect Sound Forever article on said label. My beloved Carducci only mentions them in passing during the Riff section of Rock and the Pop Narcotic. Hell, I have a pal who lives in Richmond, VA, their home town, who has suggested to me that the group themselves have disowned a lot of their stuff. As for me, I saw them two or three times live, and was always blown away by their wild combination on precision and abandon. They're a band from that era that I find myself coming back to repeatedly. Could this just be bad taste on my part? Let's put the headphones on and dig in to Hold Your Tongue and find out.
Alter-Natives sound like a group that practiced a lot. Many of the pieces on Hold Your Tongue feature the kind of changes that arise from heavy, frequent jamming. That's not to say that there are not tunes. Most of the songs on this recording clock in at about two minutes, and despite having tons of changes, they do have working melodic and rhythmic parts.
The lead voices of Greg Ottinger on guitar and Eric Ungar on flute and saxophone provide plenty of melodic interest. Ungar's playing is not particularly virtuoso, but he gets raw tones from his saxes, sometimes sounding Pacific Northwest Garage, at other times South Bay Surf, and still others almost Gnawa. His flute tones are sweet and controlled, Rock in orientation, as he never ventures too far out into solo realms and sticks mainly to melodic playing. Perhaps his music loses points with the critics for his inclusion of the flute? It's never been a particularly popular Rock instrumental choice, that's for sure. Ottinger's guitar playing is a mixture of Prog control, SST grime, and post Fusion Harmelodics. He seems to really like spiky harmonics, which come into play throughout his rhythm section playing. When he takes the lead, his sound becomes a lot more SST-ish; he flips out in a manner that can be described as controlled aggro, playing Pharoah Saunders to Ginn's John Coltrane.
The rhythm section of Chris Bopst on bass and Jim Thomson on drums rages underneath the horns and guitar. Bopst seems to favor the higher end of the bass register, playing a fast, melodic Fusion style. On many songs it's more another melodic element than an anchor. His growling, funky sound goes to places inhabited by the likes of Watt and Dukowski. He's not stayin' in the background, that' for sure. Thomson's kit playing is a hyper, rolling bash. He syncopates wildly throughout each and every song, but has the good sense to stick tight with the band during the more subdued parts. However, when he goes for it, he REALLY goes for it, featuring a sound that flies by the seat of it's pants, a caffeinated Tony Williams, lashing out and spinning ideas with haste. Sometimes it works against him, as his beats seem to be a bit behind the rest of the band, but you won't hear me complain about that. Please also let me mention his ride and hi-hat cymbal playing, in which he has such a sweet touch.
Alter-Natives' brand of Harmelodic Hardcore obviously isn't going to please too many people. The fast, dense attack on Hold Your Tongue is a great example of musicians' music, as the band careens through idea after idea, barely stopping to catch their breath, let alone leaving room for the listener. Obviously someone at SST was listening, and liked what they heard (check out Mojack's latest CD and the last SWA recording for evidence of that.) I find a lot of pleasure in their murky fusion, too. If only the naysayers could have seen them as they pounded through their version of Why Don't We Do It in the Road (I'm not joking), maybe their accounts would have been different.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Anals-Commando of Love/Wake Up, You're Dead 7"

Early in this decade, there was what appeared to be a move towards Screamers influenced synthesizer Punk. The great SynthPunk website and the amazing Tomata Du Plenty interviews in the Big Takeover seemed to presage cool, driving, hard synth music that would show up any day. Instead, crappy Industry B.S. like Hot Hot Heat and the Electroclash movement (hey lay-dees!, pfffttt) were served up. As far as I could tell from my vantage point, what was a neat possibility had turned into a bust, another reason to despise music scenes in general and the Indie sector of the Industry in particular.
Thankfully, Metz, France has served up an antidote to said blathering in the form of the Anals. A duo comprised of B. Marietta, who plays guitar and drums, and E. Satti, on synth and vocals, the Anals have released a great 7" of grating SynthPunk that fulfills the promise, albeit late in the decade, that I glimpsed during that rapidly fading time.
Commando of Love is a bizarre lyric about an S.S. member who loves a Jewish woman during WWII. VERY uncomfortable subject matter, obviously. It makes me squirm, anyway. The music is very hot tom tom driven Slow Punk (thanks, Row), with harsh, treble-y synth providing the melodic action. It reminds me a lot of Gear and Roesslers' best distorted blasts, and Marietta's drumming is equal to that of K.K. Barrett's blunt force pounding.
Wake Up, You're Dead features a kind of spiteful haiku lyric. The tune is another slow one, with repetitive drumming and machine-like synth, glazed over with some of the best feedback squalling this side of Michael Belfer's immortal playing on Tuxedomoon's No Tears.
It's really delicious to hear harsh electronic sounds coupled with driving beats, and the ones here are real ear candy, aural junk food of the best sort.
With this 7", the Anals have delivered a great slice of heavy SynthPunk. It's great to hear someone do it with the attitude and style that was promised in the past, yet only partially delivered. I look forward to full length releases from this cool, disturbing band.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Maureen Tucker-Life in Exile After Abdication

I've always hated the term "indie". It's never meant anything close to it's epistemological origin for me. In my opinion, indie describes a hairstyle or maybe someone's choice of t-shirt for a social occasion. You may ask, "but Disaster Amnesiac, what the hell does this have to do with a recording by Moe Tucker?" It's a good question. Let me see if I can clarify, by way of blog riffing to Life in Exile After Abdication.
Here we find a record that features the A List of pre and post Punk creators. Lou Reed, Jad Fair, Sonic Youth, and Daniel Johnston, are all here, not to mention the great Maureen herself. It's a cast that screams out "indie!" This time, I don't use the term for fashion, but for INDEPENDENCE. As in liberated thought. As in creative use of musical instruments with transcendence as a goal. As I type these words, the free-form freakbeat of Chase washes into my ears, coloring my mind and giving me the best kind of vertigo. Tucker's sparse pow-wow drum pounding and swimming cymbal washes. Moore and Renaldos' respective ghost feedback and chiming. This was music created in the spirit of INDEPENDENCE.
Listen to Moe's insights into the realities of working adulthood on Spam Again or Work. These lyrics are not statements about style. No. These are words that strive to express the blues that spring from having to face up to the hardscrabble reality that faces the vast majority of people. Despite all the aggravation, my heroine Moe lifts her voice and expresses the frustration with simple language and lyrical style. You know, Rock-n-Roll! Rock-n-Roll as a medium not just for the Beautiful People, but for all people. Liberated thought. INDEPENDENCE.
Dig the real Human feeling, the tenderness of Andy and Pale Blue Eyes (the best version of that song ever), or Daniel Johnston's Do it Right. Appreciate the unschooled and wonderful strumming of Jad Fair on Bo Diddly. Feel the liberation that comes when people really expose themselves in honest and heartfelt ways. Try not to shed a tear of joy. Do try to shed your pretensions. It's the Rock-n-Roll thing to do. "Indie" don't mean shit. Not to us exiles.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Indian Jewelry-8/16/08, Hemlock Tavern, SF

Me and pals Scott J. and Jason B. braved the night and fog of Polk St. on a Saturday, where parking garages double as toilet stalls and God knows what else, to catch Houston's Indian Jewelry.
Openers Jascha Ephraim played a kind of chamber Pop, which featured a string quartet of cello, two viola, and violin, along with male and female vocals. Their tunes sounded to me like deconstructed Tin Pan Alley/Sunshine State Pop, with impressionistic lyrics. At times Street Hassle came to mind, and those impressions were given weight by the inclusion of a John Cale tune. I enjoyed them, despite eventually not being able to hear the music over the chattering folks both in the music annex and in the bar area.
Indian Jewelry played second. I had been anticipating this show for a while, and thankfully they did not disappoint. Their sound is a thumping psychedelic pow-wow, powered by stand up drumming. This simple percussive approach props up the high register chatter of a very processed sampling keyboard and two very distorted guitars. Indian Jewelry seem to want to induce trance states, and their combination of noisy melody and simple drumming, enhanced by a flashing strobe light throughout their set, has that effect. A pretty amazing live band. Their CD's are great, too. I guess they're an update of groups like Crash Worship and Butthole Surfers.
Speaking of those two bands, the last group was a Butthole Surfers tribute band, led by at least one of the drummers for Crash Worship. The best thing I can say is that it brought back great memories to see the Manson looking Crash dude pounding the drums. It sure smelled like a Crash Worship show, ie, dry ice and body odor. Yikes.
All in all, a fun show. Indian Jewelry ruled. It's good to see that weird Psych is alive and well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alice Bag is a great writer

Do check out her EXCELLENT new blog, Violence Girl:

This story is obviously going to get pretty intense, but you just gotta love anything produced by Violence Girl. Props and more props to true original Artist. I stand in awe.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A.H. Kraken-A.H. Kraken

If I could travel to Europe tomorrow, I would definitely allot time to spend in Metz, France. I'm sure that there are beautiful examples of Alsatian culture there, cathedrals and what not. My interest in Metz, however, springs from a group of bands there that have built up an intriguing body of musical work. Groups like the Anals, Plastobeton, and A. H. Kraken have all released energetic, noisy, kick ass Punk under the rubric of something called La Grand Triple Alliance Internationale de L'est. Judging from this group's web page, it's something like Positive Force or Better Youth Alliance, seemingly a network for like minded bands. Thankfully, the music is a damn sight more raw and rocking than the sounds that came from the PF or BYO.
A.H. Kraken's full length release on In the Red could be the calling card of Alsatian Sludge. It's sound is a composite of Punk, No Wave, and Post-Punk, played with a vicious, acerbic glee. This record is a truly delicious aural treat for the noise fan.
The vocalist uses a deadpan ranting style to deliver lyrics in French, German, and English. His sound can be harsh at times, but, man, Punk sounds so freakin' good in French. Seriously, he could be saying "death to Disaster Amnesiac" and I wouldn't care. The vocals on A.H. Kraken are easily as cool as those on anything by Metal Urbain. His German and English songs have the same vocal inflections (versatile he ain't , not like that matters for these proceedings), and sound equally as cool, just maybe not as impressively Punk as the French ranting. I never took French, so the lyrics are pretty much incomprehensible to me, but there seems to be a sarcastic and malevolent undercurrent to the ranting. The group's myspace page friends Flipper and Crime pretty highly, so that's probably not too much of a stretch.
A.H. Kraken use guitars with extreme effectiveness. There are NO power chord riffs at all on this recording! So many bands dull their sound with the power chord approach, and to their credit, A.H. Kraken avoid that safe route. Instead, the listener is treated to noisy runs, screeches and scrawls played by two guitarists. At times they reach heights of dueling not heard since Mars. An easy comparison would be to Sonic Youth, but I believe Kraken have much more going on than a simple copying of a very influential group. It's obvious that they love to make a heady racket, and disregard the impulse to pull the listener along with mere chords.
The task of holding down the tunes is primarily left to the bass. Often times this approach can lead bands into sounding either ersatz funky or thin in the treble registers, but in A.H. Kraken's case, the sound is sludgy and heavy. The tunes move with a lower register pulse. It sounds to me like a Jazz bass through a nice big cabinet. It sounds to me like Shatter and Loose. It sounds like fucking heaven to me.
Possibly the best aspect of A.H. Kraken is the drumming. Much like their vocals and guitar playing, the drums are played simple and direct. This is not to say that the drumming features the standard Polka-Punk beats. It does not. What sounds to be a very large floor tom is pounded with heavy eighth note beats. Open hi-hats are slammed in a similar style. A.H. Kraken's rhythms are slower and longer than your standard issue Punk. There is a kind of willful sloppy approach that gives the tunes a heavy, uncomfortable edge. These songs are not forced along at a tidy pace. They throb.
A.H. Kraken are not pretty. The music they make is crude and noisy. There is a palpable sense of menace about them. Their Alsatian Sludge is the real deal. Man, I hope that they come to Oakland. If not, the streets of Metz may have to be my next vacation destination.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Crime-Exalted Masters

In a most fortunate turn of events, San Francisco's Only Rock-n-Roll Band have reemerged after being absent for decades. Exalted Masters indeed, Crime have put out a rockin' new release. Original members Johny Strike and Hank Rank are joined by Mickey Tractor and Count Fink, but it may as well be Frankie Fix and Ron Ripper. It's almost as if they never stopped playing. The great Crime elements remain: the twin guitar attack, the high register bass runs, and the simple drumming. The overall sound is the classic Crime mixture of Rockabilly and Garage; the sum total being a kind of primitive Metal. It's loose, raw, ripped, and exciting. Exalted Masters is well recorded and cleanly mastered to boot. Finally, a Crime recording with some teeth, sound wise! The older Crime recordings are FUN, and Exalted Masters continues the trend. You get frantic punk, street swagger, and throbbing sex beat. There is even a guitar backed excerpt from Strike's novel, Ports of Hell, and it does not suck. These tunes have the irreverence and humor that is lacking in so much of the music produced in this, or any other era. The sound and feel of earlier waves of Rock-n-Roll is here in full force, and it's both refreshing and revealing. It's no wonder that they chose Masonic imagery for the cover. Music like this has practically had to become a secret society in the wake of music industry pap for dollars pyramid schemes. Where can I learn the secret handshake?