Thursday, September 11, 2014

Maurizio Bianchi : Amen Test

Maurizio Bianchi so far has had a career intertwined with William Bennett, Steven Stapleton and Jehovah’s witnesses.  He has drifted in and out of obscurity, surfacing every now and again to rupture the ebb and flow of industrial music.  Influenced by Tangerine Dream, Throbbing Gristle and Conrad Schnitzler Bianchi began experimenting with sound in Italy during the late 70’s.  Enigmatic loop combinations are at the core of what Bianchi does, initially released under ‘Sacher-Pelz’.  Eventually he began to work under his real name once his material was more resolved in itself, sometimes under simply ‘MB’ (and once as Leibstandarte SS MB by William bennet on his label  'Amentest' is Bianchi’s most recent release involving patterns, rhythm and decay to forge locked incantative grooves.  He draws on these familiar elements with fresh approach capturing the dead line on the other end of a telephone, the static, grey areas in-between where true horrors lie.    Limited to 300 copies. Artwork by Ryan Martin (York Factory Complaint / Dais). This is out through Dias now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sun Kil Moon : Benji

'Benji' is Mark Kozelek's 6th self-produced album under his Sun Kil Moon project.  The name is taken from memories of going to the cinema with family, fittingly summing up the nature of this album.   Kozelek's vivid story telling gathers details of life events forging a confessional and raw collection of songs hitting right in the folk pleasure centres.  The album is constructed of characters and stories drawing on death, physical ailments and love voiced in a frank and direct diarist manner.  Vocals aching with disquiet alongside light eddying strings set an ebonied tone, just as opener 'Clarissa' ends you're gripped.  'Benji' varies in mood just as much as subject matter; songs about Kozelek’s upbringing shifts to lyrics based on murderers, sandwiched in with his reaction to seeing 'The Song Remains The Same' to memories of his first girlfriend.  Through Kozelek's candid approach to using mostly himself as subject matter, 'Benji' manages to reach one on a more personal level than most records do.  This release has just had a second pressing issued, and if it weren't for someone telling me about it this may have totally passed me by.  Maybe if I hadn't cottoned on earlier perhaps some others hadn't either - hence this quick post.  You can search 'Benji' right now and find countless other glowing reviews of this album so I'm not going to waste anymore of your time, or try and say it any  better than other worthy blogs and publications  - take that time and spend it listening to this album.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Total Control : Typical System

Melbourne's Total Control (Al Montfort, Zephyr Pavey, Dan Stewart, James Vinciguerra and Mikey Young) have returned with a follow up to 2011's flawless debut 'Henge Beat'.  'Typical System' is their second offering for Iron Lung, the latest in a line of stellar releases for other worthy labels such as Aarght!, Sub Pop and Castleface.  Over the course of two years the quintet has been working on an album that furthers their genre-side-stepping approach. 

Electro heavy opener ‘Bloody Glass’ sounds like Gary Numan covering Liquid Liquid, something about the vocal delivery and post-disco beats fuses those two bands for me.   "Our fragile subject confuses festivity for a grave militaristic orgy, and pens a carol to document collapse”, Stewart plaintively asserts - telling a story of fractured modern life.  It’s this theme of anxiety, frustration and languor that continues through these 10 new songs.  This is shown best on ‘Two Less Jacks’, utilizing gripping guitar riffs and immense beats to build a cacophony of alarm.  “Cell mate.  Bad taste.  Victor. Know scab”, are some of the scrambled words Stewart delivers in a deadpan call as the song reconciles by finding release from tension. Album closer ‘Safety Net’ is a pop-centric number with far reaching euphoric synths, dynamic rhythms, stripped back guitars and bass which add a whole other dimension to the record.  ‘Typical System’ continues as the band started - dogged, progressive and challenging, taking everyone out of their comfort zones to experience what alternative rock can do at full tilt.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Urinals : Interview

It's a real thrill to offer up an interview with John from The Urinals, read on to find out what's coming up for the seminal west coast outfit!! 

You have a live album coming up, is it a compilation of different recordings or was it made during one performance?

I’m plundering the vaults for usable stuff from 1978-1983 so it’ll probably be a hybrid Urinals/100 Flowers release.  I’m trying to find interesting performances or songs that no one has heard us cover before – there should be some real surprises here, including performances of songs that sound much different from the released versions, and at least one cover that I’d forgotten about.  These are from cassettes, where the sound quality is variable from one show to the next, so some cleaning up will be required.

What’s your most memorable show?

Several are memorable – our first Sunset Strip performance at Gazzari’s (with The Last, Go Go’s, and an early Jeffrey Lee Pierce band, the Cyclones), our first show outside California (Raul’s in Austin), opening for Sonic Youth at the Wadsworth in LA, touring the West Coast with Yo La Tengo, being pelted at a Battle of the Bands in San Diego.   For sheer glorious surrealism, our first set at the Chaoyang Park International Pop Festival in Beijing in May of 2005.  Not that it was our best, but it was the most unexpected and unlikely.  To have found ourselves as the sole U.S. band is still mind-boggling to me.  You’re welcome, America.

What can we expect from the new album?

Aggressive, angular hard pop with more texture than you might expect.  Shortest song is :45 with only one longer than 3:14 so we’re still into brevity and minimalism, but with more nuance. Guitarist Rob Roberge brings a different element to the band – his influences are Stones/Dolls and Americana, but you’ll still know it’s us - it’s the next logical step after WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS NOT.

Will the new album be self-released on happy squid too?

Yes – it’s in the layout stage now, so it shouldn’t be too long, but I’ve been wrong on these things before, so don’t quote me.  Or even allow me to quote myself.

How do you approach recording? Do you come to a session with ideas already mapped out, or is it a more instinctive thing?

When we go into the studio, the songs have been written, arranged, and played live (a lot!)  The specific solos and overdubs are not set, so there IS room for some improvisation, but the structures are known.  One song on the new album, however, was re-arranged in the mixing stage, so I’m not against a little digital trickery to make a song the fullest expression of itself.

From some digging on the internet it looks like you still live/work/write music in Southern California? Does the area inform the music you write?

I suppose so, but it’s not something I think about.  A song like CALIFORNIA’S FALLING INTO THE OCEAN was about a specific local event, and SURFIN’ WITH THE SHAH employs a surf beat, which is very SoCal, but our approach doesn’t consciously reference our culture, though I suppose it is OF its culture.

Having said that, when we were starting out and going into Hollywood to see the Dangerhouse bands, I felt like the L.A. punk scene was the best one in the U.S.  At that time though, our biggest early influences were Wire, Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, and the Ramones – none of which are from SoCal. Once you find your own voice however, the influences recede. They act initially to get you to strap on a guitar or yowl into a microphone.

Do you prefer playing or recording? With the experience you have now is there a piece of advice you’d give yourself when you first playing in a band? If so what would it be?

Playing is way more fun, unless it’s a horrible night in a dim club with 2 paying customers, crappy sound, and a belligerent sound guy.  But when it’s not that, and one is free to concentrate on the songs and the performance, AND get feedback from the audience – it’s the best. Recording is kind of dull, actually, because it takes so long.  I do love the finished product though – it just takes a lot of doing to get to it.

Advice to my younger self? Go on tour, network with people. Near the end of 100 Flowers, we had become a tight and dynamic unit, but not too many people outside of LA had been given the opportunity to see us. I think we could’ve taken the band to the next level had we been more careerist, which of course was a dirty word back then, so pretend I didn’t say that.

It’s well written about how Urinals forged their sound from not knowing how to play when you got started.  I was wondering if over time you’ve honed your skills through experience, and if it’s still important to write songs sounding like they’ve come from an untaught place?

I would say it’s important to write songs that sound different.  There’s no way we could get away with pretending we don’t know what we’re doing (though technically, being self-taught and unable to read music, Kevin and I still don’t.) That would be dishonest and would suggest that we aren’t interested in evolving into the next iteration of the Urinals.  It’s more important to retain one’s own unique perspective and try not to get absorbed into someone else’s version of pop music.

I’ve also read a lot about how Urinals was kicking against what everyone was listening to when you got started with the concept of a ‘joke punk’ band.  What do you make of the current wave of music?  Can a band still make a radical statement when there’s so much out there that has said so much now?

A radical statement can now be thought of as commercial. Look at Kanye West’s last record, some of which sounds like late 1970s/early 1980s industrial music. Or No Age, who are appealing to a mass audience way beyond what would’ve been conceivable in the early days of punk.  What they’re saying may be familiar, but the way they’re saying it is new to commercial radio. I tend to think however, that most everything has been expressed – what’s left?

How does it feel to have bands like No Age, Yo La Tengo and Mike Watt cover your songs?  Are there any new bands that you currently like to listen to?

It’s a pleasure to have the material covered.  It’s gratifying that people find it resonant enough to lend their own interpretation to.

I am exposed to new music more often in a live situation, when we’re playing on a bill with someone we’ve never been exposed to before.  Recently memorable bands I’ve seen have been AUNTIE PANTY, SHARK TOYS, PLAYBACKDOLLS, and AUDACITY.

In an interview you said sex was recorded in a gym, the interview read as though you had limited options when it came to studio space, do you think this added another dimension to how your songs sound?  Have you continued to record in unusual venues?

SEX sounds the way it does because of the space in which it was recorded – also ORANGE ANAL SIN, which was recorded in a parking structure, is similarly massive.  There’s some footage on YouTube of us playing SHAH with Bruce Licher in a downtown gallery a couple of years ago that also has that quality.  We really like that kind of sound, but we’ve moved away from recording in spaces like that. Instead, we use the studio to try to present the material in its most dynamic way – sometimes that dynamism is lost when the space overwhelms it.

If you were sliced in half what would be inside?

A solid sphere of dark chocolate (72% cacao) with a thin layer of pistachio Grenache.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anne Briggs : The Hazards of Love (50th Anniversary Edition)

Here we have a facsimile of Anne Brigg’s debut EP ‘The Hazards of Love’ (Topic).  During the 1960’s & 70’s Briggs released only a handful of material including her seminal piece “The Time Has Come”.  A number of factors play a part in Brigg’s modest catalogue, a painfully self-critical approach and eschewing any sort of commercial recognition.  Despite this she is well known for influencing folks like Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny to name a few.  Although Briggs has gone to great lengths to remain in obscurity, the power of her recordings has meant her music is anything but – as this single testifies.

Opening track “Lowlands” is a mysterious capstan/pumping and some suggest a halyards shanty dating back to 1860, traditional both on British and American shores.  The song has developed over time with the addition of a sailor appearing in a lover’s dream.  A.L. Lloyd theorizes the lyric’s origins are tied into Anglo-Scots who co-existed with British seamen and the song was passed along to shore-men in Gulf Ports.  He also asserts the “Lowlands” refrain may mirror the ballad “The Golden Vanity”.  This is how Brigg’s delivers her version (1964) as well, as a ballad rather than a shanty, with no instrumental accompaniment her beguiling voice lingers, longs and laments through the track singing straight from and hitting right into the core.

The earliest known record of the following song “My Bonny Boy” goes back to the mid-17th century. Over time it’s evolved partly through featuring in plays and Vaughan Williams’ Folk-Song Suite.  It’s a good example of how folk songs get passed down and develope, until we have what’s available today – Brigg’s captivating interpretation where you feel both the history, and the new life breathed into the song.

On side B first up is ”Polly Vaughan”, a story about a man who went hunting for birds and sees something in the bushes.  Mistaking it for a swan he finds he’s actually killed his true love, Polly Vaughan, when she was taking shelter from rain.  The man, sometimes called Johnny or Jimmy Randle, reports the accident to his Uncle who urged him not to flee.  He’s convinced he should stay and explain to the court it was an honest error.  The story continues that in the evening before Vaughan’s funeral her spirit appears to confirm Randle’s account of what had happened.  We never learn the outcome of the trial, but if Brigg’s version of the song is anything to go by, he felt as though he’d lost regardless.  It’s a powerfully mournful song, sung again acapella.

“Rosemary Lane” is another bitterly tragic story, this time about the seduction of a servant by a sailor.   “I won the good will of my master and dame, Until a young sailor came there to stay, And that was the beginning of my misery”, Briggs laments in this traditional folk ballad.  She was known in her earlier years for questioning a woman’s role in society and kicking against the status quo. So perhaps that’s why this song in particular appealed, tackling the path the servant was expected to take when she fell pregnant, “Now if it’s a boy, he’ll fight for the King, And if it’s a girl she’ll wear a gold ring; She’ll wear a gold ring and a dress all aflame, And remember my service in Rosemary Lane.”  Even in her early years Briggs challenged women’s place in the world, "The role of women was very defined and veryrestrictive, but right through my teenage years, I'd just been shedding everything as I went, you know: I can do without that, I'm not doing that, why can't I do that if blokes can do it? In fact, I'm going to do it, so try and stop me and see what happens.”So it’s no surprise this song moved her to depict it.
These four songs explore fantasy, unfaithfullness, loss and a woman's role in regards to love and relationships.  Each story tells a different side in a candid way that's both bewitching and sorrowful, it doesn't get more raw than this.  Due to the limited number of releases and small pressing originals are hard to come by and when you do find one they’re pricey.  For me there isn’t a lot to get excited about when it comes to RSD anymore, but this year ‘The Hazards of Love’ was a pretty brilliant surprise.  I managed to find this in London’s Rough Trade West only a few weeks ago, so if you get there quick they may still have some.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Protomartyr : Under Colour of Official Light

Protomartyr is Detroit four piece Joe Casey (vocals), Greg Ahee (guitar), Alex Leonard (drums) and Scott Davidson (bass). Over the course of one weekend they recorded follow up to debut 'No Passion All Technique' (Urinal Cake Records) with Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins at Key Club Records Benton Harbor, MI.  Drawing inspiration from literature, people and local landmarks Casey delivers stories of listening to Alice In Chains on repeat, an infamous Roman execution spot for traitors and confrontation with an impassioned sense of ennui.  ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ (Hardly Art) fleshes out their austere approach both in the execution of recording and song writing pushing the limits of what the band have already achieved.  Opener “Maidenhead” sets a tone of seclusion with isolator-y echo heavy vocals and reverb heavy guitars that swell into tidal fuzz.  Casey muses, “Don’t feel no love for anything” and it’s this sense of malaise that the band take inspiration from and subverts into gripping rock songs.  Without trying to use any sort of hyperbole ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ is an all kill no fill record, it’s difficult to pick just a few tracks to talk about here.   Anthemic “Scum Rise” will no doubt have fists punching the air at shows with its choppy beats, siren guitar licks and forthright vocals.  “I Stare At Floors” features racing guitars juxtaposed with plaintive vocals providing a great reflection of where the mind can wonder when you’re staring at your shoes on the hard concrete.  ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ has seen the band only gather momentum since its release only a few weeks ago, it’s definitely made Protomartyr a top band this year for me, and maybe for you too.  Go here and check them out – or EVEN better, come and see them play in August on their first UK tour, one day you’ll be able to say you were there at the beginning, saw it all right from the very start….. you know… no big deal…..