Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chrome-Half Machine From the Sun (The Lost Tracks from '79-'80); Digital Download via Pledge Music

Add Helios Creed to the list of musicians who have bypassed the standard way of getting a label to release their music. With the release of Half Machine From the Sun, his approach of taking the case directly to fans and using their donated funds in order to get this collection of Chrome demos from the late 1970's through early 1980's has been proven very effective. Disaster Amnesiac was one of the online donors, and as such, was updated often during Creed's lengthy process of mixing and mastering these 18 tunes for release. I noted that he achieved his monetary goal pretty rapidly. Others noted the sometimes frustrating amount of time between the initial offering and the release, but, thankfully, it's been worth the wait.
All of Half Machine's tracks stick to the standard Chrome format: solid beats are laid down, on top of which treble-ey guitar and electronic sounds ride, then either augmented by Damon Edge's Romantic Goth tenor voice or samples from some Noir film. This format is one that Chrome fans love, and Disaster Amnesiac is definitely a Chrome fan. Said beats are simple, crisp, and played on what surely sounds like an old, beat up, kit. I have an abiding love for these kinds of kits (off-brand, cracked cymbals, old heads,etc.), so a lot of my enjoyment of this recording  comes from listening to the funky sounds coaxed from the drums; they remind this listener of Jamaican Dub or primal motorik beats of the prime era Krautrock bands. Creed's guitar playing is cutting and incisive on tunes such as Looking For Your Door With All Seeing Eye, almost Industrial. On Sunset he unleashes six string squalls that sound like updates and refinements of the Hendrix sound. Edge's vocals range from really freaked on Fukushima (Nagasaki) to an almost Bryan Ferry-like suave on The Rain. The entire affair exudes a great post-Punk trippy sound, one evocative of the clammy night and fog of their S.F. hometown, perhaps laced with speed and acid edges as the electronics peal and oscillate. Many a Post Punk band would have wished they could have gotten down with such ease as on Sub Machine or Autobahn Brazil.
Do seek out these burnished new/old sounds from one of San Francisco's finest purveyors of Experimental Rock, the Mighty Chrome. 
UPDATE: Disaster Amnesiac was mistaken a few times here, as it's actually Helios that sings on Fukushima (Nagasaki) and The Rain. An honest mistake, and, man, Creed sounds so different here than on his solo LP's!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Peer Group-Rhetoric and Hands 7"; 1981, via Water Under the Bridge Records, 2013

Water Under the Bridge's Peer Group web page suggests that the listener not take their recent 7" release by the San Pedro group "too seriously", but Disaster Amnesiac does want to at least treat it with a modicum of attention, seeing as that I enjoy it a lot.
The 1981 recordings presented on it show a group pretty obviously influenced by then-current goings on, and by that I mean the musical ferment, post-Punk Rock.
One can hear it in the scratchy, skatchey guitar playing of Gary Jacobelly as he lays it down during the verses of the tunes. He gets plenty of time to do some great Psych explorations within solo action on tunes of longer duration, such as Neuron Suite and Box of Words. Disaster Amnesiac hears traces of Roland S. Howard, Marc Riley, and Jacobelly's fellow Pedran, D. Boon, in his terse riffing and max-ed out treble heavy soloing.
Bass player Lina Sedillo's plectrum plucking provides most of the melodic action throughout, especially on tracks such as Bromide and the surreal French blast of Lon Chaney. Her simple style works really well within Peer Group's Punk Rock, and she keeps things moving while Jacobelly explores the contours of his sound.
Locked in with Sedillo is Mike Hurley. While he does at one point do the Hardcore Polka on Eating Out (and even sounds pretty expressive there), his repetitive beats on Xmas in Purgatory and Iconoclast Youth, with their closed high hat snap and crisp snare rolls, give the band a nice rhythmic undertow while still feeling alive and vital, concerns that were still relevant within the underground scene of that time, concerns owed to the aesthetic reassessments of the 1970's Punk Rock and those sounds that came in its wake.
The lyrics, generally dealing with matters from the existential (Box of Words) to the mundane (Eating Out), are delivered in a kind of spoken manner by Jimmy Otter. Again, Disaster Amnesiac hears contemporary influences, such as Mark E. Smith and Bob Schick of Honor Role (would that have been possible?), but it's a kick to hear Otter's SoCal regional accent and inflections as he spiels.
So, yes, I agree, don't take it too seriously. However, if you want to hear some fine, expressive Punk Rock, made within one of the best music scenes then going, do seek out Rhetoric and Hands.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks vol. 6, Fillmore Auditorium 12/20/1969 and Fox Theater 2/2/1970; Rhino Records, 2013

Disaster Amnesiac will completely understand if any  of my valued readership is getting a bit tired of Dave's Picks posts. There is clearly only so much one can say about Jerry Garcia and the rest of his band of musical misfits before the point becomes belabored. For a Grateful Dead fan, of course, the listening pleasure is endless, so I listen, and feel compelled to write, to paraphrase Pigpen, just a little bit.
Speaking of Pigpen, why not start with him, as Dave's Picks 6 is in many ways a feature for his talents. The listener is treated to many minutes of Pig at his Rhythm and Blues best. It becomes abundantly clear from these recordings, from St. Louis ( 2/2/1970) and and San Francisco (12/20/1969) that Ron McKernan was very much, as Garcia never hesitated to note in interviews, the soul and salesman of the early Dead. The disc's major selling point, and probably of major revelation to many listeners, is the thirty minutes plus version of Turn on Your Lovelight, recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium in S.F., during which Pigpen sermonizes a down and dirty sexual hymn. Dave Lemieux, in a promo video for the release at, suggested that listeners keep that portion of the disc Rated R at home, and one can hear why, deep into the track. Let's just say that Pigpen gets a few bases past his usual Lovelight desire of "a little of your kissin'" from his amour, and does so in a very non-subtle way. The loud audience response from his pals at the Fillmore gives ample proof of their appreciation for his antics. Pig gets a lot of time during the track's duration with which to push and pull the tune's breakdowns into sections from which he expounds more of his, shall we say earthy, worldview. Disaster Amnesiac swears that he hears riffs from Foxy Lady, Feelin' Alright, and the Dead's own Alligator in there, to boot. DP 6's other Pig feature tunes, two versions of Hard to Handle and a the Lovelight from St. Louis's Fox Theater (clocking in at mere 14 minutes!), give equally great examples of his showmanship, and the way in which he lead the band into much more down to earth spaces. It's funny to hear Lesh and Weir cracking up and joining in with Pig's antics during the Fox tracks, along with his none too subtle come on to some audience member therein.
Also of note to Disaster Amnesiac is the fact that DP 6 is the first volume of the series to feature the pre-emotional collapse Mickey Hart in tandem with Bill Kreutzmann. The two sound fabulous together, their dramatic fills syncing up, their supportive coloration fitting just right. Even the paired-down playing of the then newly emerging Workingman's Dead tunes is clean and very un-clumsy. The two had been putting in 2-3 years' work into developing their one-mind drumming scheme, and on these tracks it sounds brilliantly realized.
Overall, the Dead sound amazing on these records. The meat of their psychedelic ranger phase, the Dark Star/St. Stephen/The Eleven (Mason's Children for the Fox show), is by turns spaced-out and jungle-dense, with the band going pretty much anywhere that they want, as one unit, throughout. Their silences during parts of Dark Star, and the Electronic Music vibes that emanate from them, are particularly cool. Lesh must have been in high heaven. The previously mentioned Workingman's tunes sound fresh and new, which, in the Dead's case, means that there are forgotten lyrics and sour notes, but, as any Dead Head will tell you, that just makes then all the more endearing; when they do sync, for instance at the point during the Fox show's Black Peter during which the band reaches the one point of silence that Garcia craved so much, the effect is pretty emotionally stirring.
These two sets show the band as they morph from one much-vaunted iteration to the next, equally vaunted one. There's just a lot to like about that. OK, enough yammerin' for now re: Dave's Picks and the Grateful Dead, at least until 2013's third quarter release!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Black Flag-Down in the Dirt; Digital Single, SST Records, 2013

           "...symbolic father figure for a scene based on patricide...."
                           --Joe Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic

1. Disaster Amnesiac has been enjoying the first recorded example of the rebooted Black Flag, Down in the Dirt, for a few days now. The band sounds solid, and the song is fine. Take for example the primary riff. It's a fine new exposition of Ginn's Black Flag approach to guitar riffing: circular, repetitive, almost double-timed, made up of a chord that is pretty far from rudimentary. That he makes it sound so simple is just one of his melodic gifts. Of course, his natural gifts have been honed with hard work and dedication. It's probably not so easy to play like Ginn on the guitar. The way he makes it shriek during the turnaround/chorus "yeah I'm DOWN!" hearkens back to the late-mid period of Flag tunes, the ones that were forged in the emotional crucible of the Unicorn/MCA debacle and ended up on Loose Nut. Ginn has done all kinds of playing since that time, but his signature Black Flag approach remains strong, one dripping with nervous energy, spiked by the tension of effort. It's great that he's brought the theremin along from the Royal We; Greg seems to be relishing its noisy potential. Greg's alter ego on bass, Dale Nixon, has grown a lot. All of that touring in which he played bass with the Taylor Texas Corrugators has clearly paid off. Ron Reyes sounds strong and emphatic, much like he did on earlier Black Flag recordings. It's great to hear him back in action. His lengthy hiatus seems not to have done much damage (no pun intended). Gregory Moore's drumming is groovy and downright locked. As far as previous Black Flag drummers, he reminds Disaster Amnesiac of Anthony Martinez, with his solid, un-fussy backbeats. His cymbal beats and snare rolls are great.  Some right foot on that guy, too. Oomph! The recorded sound is characteristic of recent SST offerings, in that it's clean and compressed. All of the elements are mixed nicely, and no one gets short shrift.

2. Surely as have many others, Disaster Amnesiac has been following the apparent spat between Ginn and his former band mates, as they take their vision of Flag out on the road. I'm not sure that the initial press release from Black Flag or the lyrics of Dirt (which often strike me as aimed more at Rollins) were the best move (maybe better to just do their thing without comment?), but, that said, the Official Spokespeople of Hardcore have been dissing Greg in print for years now. I have only ever seen him brush off comments and try to focus on musical matters, but maybe he's just grown tired of taking so much crap and has finally chosen to fight back a bit. The monies owed issue is tantamount here, but, I really don't think that the entire story is being told. I also don't think that this issue will ever be solved or even addressed. So, the two sides will probably duke it out. It looks to me like Flag will make more money out on the road, seeing as that its members are so much less reviled than Ginn in the underground, but Greg will also get some serious bumps in Black Flag album sales. I guess it's a win-win, there.

3. It also strikes Disaster Amnesiac that Greg Ginn has become a lot like Jerry Garcia or Albert Ayler, in that he's  a musician that people either really love or really can't stand. People know them when they hear them, and respond according to their tastes. None of them are bland, and, as such, can't ever please everybody. Greg is in fine company, here. He has always followed his vision, and often angered those who like their music played within extremely narrow aesthetic parameters. His liberty from them, and disregard for them and their opinions, only angers those whose musical perceptions (at minimum) are shackled.

Is Disaster Amnesiac looking forward to hearing the other 21 tracks that I've read about as having been prepared for Black Flag's 2013 release? Darn tootin' I am.

Betsy Biggs/Cheryl Leonard-First Thursdays at the Schoolhouse; Richmond, CA 5/2/13

After a particularly hot day in the SF Bay Area, it felt cool to have to travel less than a mile from chez Amnesiac to get the Schoolhouse for the May installment of their First Thursday Music Series. I guess that I should have walked, but after a particularly brutal slog on BART, well, yeah....

First up for the evening, Betsy Biggs presented two pieces. The first, Bernal Bernal featured Dana Jessen on bassoon  and Michael Straus on alto sax. Their woodwind parts were played lyrical and melodically, matched by rapid fire film images and clicking typewriter-like sounds from Biggs. The film images were great: juxtapositions of San Francisco, with Bernal Heights seeming to be the main focus. Her second piece mixed much more minimal electronic sounds and processed instrument recordings with two voices and a film that morphed montage imagery from sepia to grey to blue. Disaster Amnesiac was particularly intrigued by one quote: "10/21/57 in Heidelberg". This former resident on that lovely city wanted to know the back story!
Biggs seems to be pretty accomplished; Disaster Amnesiac must find more of her stuff.

If it's not already the case, Cheryl Leonard will surely be admired as an artist that more than capably fuses environmental elements with artistic vision. The ways in which she presents the materials that she uses, followed by the sounds that she coaxes from them, is always an aesthetic pleasure. She gets the most cosmic sounds out of the simplest of earthly material: smooth stones, twigs, water, bones. Her rigs are always beautiful, to boot.
For her Schoolhouse set, Cheryl was joined by Phillip Greenlief for the piece Meltwater. Based in her travels to Antarctica, the piece used melting icicles, hung from the ceiling, their runoff dripping into mic'd beakers, as the basic rhythm, on top of which the duo eventually utilized bows on beakers, penguin bones in beakers, stones on stone slabs, and small percussive hits. The piece built up from the quiet dripping into a collage of Antarctic environmental sounds. At one point, a helicopter flew over the Richmond neighborhood in which the Schoolhouse is located, and one could easily imagine it as some patrol, flying over the frozen south.Small lights illuminated the icicles, as well as the the water-filled beakers on the floor; the set took on a shimmering, cave-like atmosphere. Lovely!
Leonard's second piece of the evening was a solo rendition of her Lullaby for E Seal, played on two long pieces of dried kelp. These natural flutes gave forth primal wind sounds, Cheryl expressing her love for species M. leonina. A few quiet minutes of the kelp, paired with recordings of elephant seals, in which the composer seemed moved, much as the listeners surely were. Then, out of her cool environment and into the heat of the East Bay night.