Cluster's second album finds them still in their Berlin phase, that of the amorphous analog electronic passages without the reference points of any actual rhythms. The tracks move along based on circular synth sequences that provide structure without the addition of overt tangible beats, such as what they would explore on subsequent albums after moving to the German countryside and collaborating with Michael Rother from Neu!, who would also join them in Harmonia and provide his trademark motorik rhythms for both bands. "Plas" starts out like churning machinery, then lifts off dramatically into expansiveness, evoking the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the astronauts circle the moon in slow rotation to slowly reveal the sun in an ominous deep space daybreak; its analog shimmerings and pulsations are the obvious precursors to the ambient passages in Orb and Aphex Twin songs before the depth-charge bass and breakbeats drop in. "Imsüden" is monotonously repetitive, with a woozy spy flick guitar figure inducing vertigo over a swelling and ebbing synth motif and panning helicopter sound effects for over 12 minutes. The aptly named "Für die Katz'" is a brief playful interlude that is the aural equivalent of making a cat jump and chase after a laser pointer. The 15-minute centerpiece "Live in der Fabrik" comes closest to the UFOs-piloted-by-aliens-on-acid themes of their contemporaries Tangerine Dream, and manages to be space rock without the rock. Whether seen as frustratingly nebulous or trance-inducingly hypnotic, Cluster are nevertheless one of Krautrock's true electronic pioneers, and this is headphone candy at its finest.
Even among Rep's catalog of weird shit, this record is a weird one. Donovan's Brain is a two-part sci-fi red temple prayer boogie anthem, loosely based around his experience in the mid 90's producing Donovan's comeback album on Rick Rubin's American label. The resulting recordings were too fucked up for Rubin and another producer was put on the job. This hit was Rep's response and it's 1000x better than anything off of Sutras. The Ballad of Jim Croce is one of Rep's early 80's campfire parodies which got under the skin of fratboys and rednecks alike: "Sacriledge! Croce is like a goner, man!"
Scott Walker's second album was his biggest commercial success, actually reaching number one in Britain. His taste remains eclectic, encompassing Bacharach/David, Tim Hardin, and of course his main man Jacques Brel (who is covered three times on this album). And his own songwriting efforts hold their own in this esteemed company. "The Girls From the Streets" and "Plastic Palace People" show an uncommonly ambitious lyricist cloaked behind the over-the-top, schmaltzy orchestral arrangements, one more interested in examining the seamy underside of glamour and romance than celebrating its glitter. The Brel tune "Next" must have lifted a few teenage mums' eyebrows with its not-so-hidden hints of homosexuality and abuse. Another Brel tune, "The Girl and the Dogs," is less controversial, but hardly less nasty in its jaded view of romance. Some of the material is not nearly as memorable, however, and the over-the-top show ballad production can get overbearing. The album included his first Top 20 U.K. hit, "Jackie."
Released on fomer bassist Paul Nini's own Old 3C label, Length of Growth marks the first time the Great Plains' jangle-punk sound (with hints of new wave) has been available on CD, outside of a handful of compilation albums. Comprised of 50 songs spanning the Columbus, OH act's 1981-1989 career, Length of Growth draws from the band's entire catalog, including three full-lengths released by the legendary Homestead label. Included on the album are hook-laden favorites like the ultra-catchy "Dick Clark" and "Letter to a Fanzine," which poses the age-old question, "Why do punk rock guys go out with new wave girls?" Also included are more obscure tracks like "Rutherford B. Hayes" and "Real Bad" (the title refers to the state of then bassist Don Howland's bladder), as well as uncharacteristically touching songs like "Same Moon." Though there are too many to mention, other gems include "The Way She Runs a Fever," "I Must Have Made It All Up," and "Pretty Dictionary," which features the line, "Without a book in my hand/I'm a desperate man." Noticeably absent is longtime Ron House staple "Chuck Berry's Orphan." A band whose music was keyboard-driven with twangy guitar accents punctuated by House's endearingly imperfect, nasal, almost Jello Biafra-ish vocals and deceptively smart, occasionally snide lyrics, the Great Plains have been hailed by such underground luminaries as Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. All things considered, the Great Plains really just come across as being a fun, goofy bunch of guys who are having a ball playing rock & roll. Known for its ever-rotating member lineup, Great Plains' mainstays included vocalist House, guitarist Matt Wyatt, and keyboardist Mark Wyatt. Other members have included Nini, Dave Green, Mike "Rep" Hummel, Bill Bruner, Jim Castoe, and Hank O'Hare (aka Don Howland, also a member of the Gibson Brothers, which included Jon Spencer). Following the breakup of the Great Plains in 1989, the members went on to form other bands such as Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Log, One Riot One Ranger, and Bassholes. The Great Plains reunited in the late '90s for a handful of shows, mostly in the Columbus area, prior to the release of Length of Growth in August of 2000.
Though Sonic Youth's first EP is the least of their major works and was the only one to not receive reissue in 1995 by DGC, it's not a complete blunder. Awkward and rather formative, the record sounds like a fusion of no wave and an early Factory band. A couple tracks ("The Burning Spear," "I Don't Want to Push It") match the best of Confusion Is Sex, steeping itself in death disco and minimal scree. Thurston Moore yelps, Kim Gordon rambles, and the guitars go plink-plink-plink. Tumbling and tinny tribal drums are provided by Richard Edson, who would be seen as an ill-intentioned parking attendant four years later in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. [Sonic Youth was finally given the reissue treatment by Geffen in 2006, arriving in a deluxe edition that featured a remastered version of the EP, early live recordings, and extensive liner notes by Glenn Branca, Richard Edson (the Youth's drummer in the early '80s), and Byron Coley. Though not nearly as lavish as the Goo and Dirty reissues, it's a fitting way to honor Sonic Youth's first release.]
While not quite as essential as its predecessor, New York Noise, Vol. 2 provides an eye and ear-opening introduction to the progenitors, many completely obscure even in their day, of punk, new wave, no wave, and wry art rock. The downtown New York "underground" music scene during 1977-1984 was a hotbed for many styles of indie rock that have influenced all that has come since, both in form and function (the D.I.Y. ethos of art gallery and warehouse performance spaces continues to spawn and support the most truly "independent" artists today). This collection opens with a pair of dispensable yet fun punk-funk workouts from also-rans Pulsallama and Mofungo (nonetheless exposing the reference points of contemporary bands like the Rapture, !!!, and Out Hud), then redeems itself with the blast-furnace agit-punk of Red Transistor (paving the way from Wire to Liars) and the sinister yet dancefloor-friendly "Black Box Disco" from the soundtrack of the indie film Vortex, featuring downtown doyen Lydia Lunch. There are some crucial tracks here such as Rhys Chatham's dissonant juggernaut "Drastic Classicism," an archetypal piece from Glenn Branca's post-Theoretical Girls outfit the Static, and one of Sonic Youth's first known recordings, the dronescape "I Dreamed I Dream," which with Thurston Moore's cracked croons, Kim Gordon's seductive speak-sing, and their trademark twin-guitar hypnotic atonality, perfectly sets the template for the majority of their future work. There are also disposable novelties such as Jim Jarmusch's herky-jerky Del-Byzanteens (stick to the genius film director role!) and Ned Sublette's generic dance-dub Clandestine (A Certain Ratio did it better!). However, the bulk of this compilation, as can be said of most Soul Jazz comps, flows seamlessly with nary a dull moment (OK, maybe the proto-electro-disco of Felix, a lesser Arthur Russell project, could have been omitted for consistency), and conjures the electric eclecticism of one of the most vibrant music scenes ever to spontaneously erupt anywhere, anytime.
New York Noise covers roughly the same stretch of time as In the Beginning There Was Rhythm, another compilation from the reliable Soul Jazz label. There aren't any gaping stylistic gulfs between the two discs, but the geographic focus here is completely different. In the Beginning features post-punk groups from England, while this disc highlights the genre-bending and cultural cross-breeding that was taking place in New York City, synchronously, during the late '70s and early '80s. The disc takes in most of the movements that took root in the city during the era, from no wave to mutant disco to hip-hop to art funk and a handful of points in between -- all without overlapping a great deal with other sets that were released just before and just after, like Downtown 81, Rough Trade Post Punk 01, N.Y. No Wave, and a swollen reissue of ZE's Mutant Disco. Mars' "Helen Fordsdale," plucked from the increasingly hard to find No New York, is emblematic of no wave, with lines of screeching guitars, furiously rolling toms, frantic bass, and unintelligible yelps. Lizzy Mercier Descloux's "Wawa," a sparse, brittle instrumental with spindly guitars, could be slipped onto either of Talking Heads' first two albums with little notice. Dinosaur L's "Clean on Your Bean No. 1" isn't nearly as wild as the dub-drenched Latin funk of François Kevorkian's "Go Bang" remix, despite having several of the same ingredients, but it's still pleasurably loose-limbed, like an out-there abstraction of Roy Ayers' best dancefloor-oriented moments. Soul Jazz has the tendency to pull out at least one obscurity that even graying hipsters have trouble remembering; in this case it's from the Bloods, who could be more easily placed in the company of ESG and Delta 5 if they had recorded more than one single. Compilations like this are necessary because they document bygone fragments of time and keep them alive for younger generations. Compilations like this are dangerous because they tend to fall in the hands of young bands who spend more time looking behind than ahead. Besides, who's to say that no wave and post-punk won't spawn their own analogs of traditional blues musicians -- if they haven't already? Still, New York Noise is another title demonstrating that the late '70s and early '80s were awesome for music.
A live EP that documents The Clean in their prime across various dates and venues in 1981-82. The Clean had amazing albums during this time but one cannot truly understand the power of their music until you hear their live performances featuring an absolutely scorching addition of "At The Bottom" as well as "Two Fat Sisters" and the classic "Caveman" which was never probably released on a studio album. Essential.
Formed in 1978, Brazilian-raised singer/guitarist Arto Lindsay hastily assembled an international trio of non-musicians. Robin Crutchfield played keyboard and Japan's Ikue Mori played drums. DNA played their first gig within weeks and recorded their first 7" shortly afterwards. The ear of Brian Eno was quickly caught, recording them for the infamous No New York compilation alongside James Chance, Mars, and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. Before No New York was released, Robin left the band after a total tenure of nine months. Bassist Tim Wright had just left Pere Ubu, relocated to NY and quickly joined DNA. With a new face, a new instrument, and a new sound, DNA recorded their classic 9-minute EP A Taste Of DNA. DNA toured the States and Europe, bringing their explosive live show to a wider audience. DNA only released 12 songs during its lifetime, and another 3 shortly afterwards on a European compilation. Their impact was far and wide-reaching. Many musicians have sited DNA as a main influence including Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and the band Blonde Redhead, who appropriated their name from a DNA song title. This LP compiles all of the studio and many choice live recordings. Of particular interest are the original line-up's "early versions" of "Detached," "5:30" and "Low" (which is closely related to "A New Low"). The unreleased studio tracks "Grapefruit," "Police Chase" and "Young Teenagers Talk Sex" are heard here for the first time, as well as live versions of the unreleased songs "Nearing" and "Surrender."
With all the attention it has retrospectively garnered, it’s easy to forget that No Wave was like a solar eclipse: brief, disorienting, and remarkable. Consider that less than half of the scene’s seminal groups (DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Contortions, Theoretical Girls, Dark Day, 8-eyed Spy) lasted longer than five years, leaving behind scant discographies and wayward, hazy memories of their very existences. Mars, perhaps the most seminal of these bands, was no different, committing to tape just 11 songs in three years. Their performances were equally abbreviated, numbering around 30 shows from 1977-78, with sets often running 20 minutes. But despite the overwhelming sense of fleeting, Mars and No Wave were able to confront, confound, and challenge music and art in ways that may never again be replicated.
While it was the groups themselves who unintentionally conceived and defined No Wave, it was Brian Eno who offered it to the world. His production of the now legendary 1978 compilation, No New York, which included four tracks from Mars, gave exposure to the otherwise obscure New York City-based art form. This year’s career-encompassing Mars LP assembles those tracks, the 5-song Mars EP, and the band’s first and only single. Now available using a separate, forgotten master (the original, used for the identically tracked 78, was damaged in a flood) Mars LP extracts new sounds and frequencies that add depth to nearly every track. These nuances, while subtle, were crucial to the Mars sound experience that was meticulously assembled using equal parts urge and ingenuity.
As with most No Wave bands, the members of Mars arrived having little-to-no musical background. What the band’s first recorded moment (“3E," one of the only tracks on Mars LP to bear any sort of traditional song structure) lacks in musical dynamics is offered back in teeth-gnashing rowdiness. “11,000 Volts,” its B-side, is a better predictor of Mars’ later work, with its lazy beat and China Burg’s trance-like mumble both unsuccessfully roused by quick scrapes at the guitar. “Helen Fordsdale,” which was inspired by insect sounds, is a driving, odd-rock diatribe strongly reminiscent of songs that Sonic Youth would write and that Damo Suzuki-era Can did write. “Hair Waves” is a discordant piece of noise that takes the listener within the body, if not the soul, of a guitar.
Perhaps the best example of Mars’ manipulation and relationship with sound, "Hair Wave" is layered with frequencies and tempos that pop and echo with tones channeling in and out. Surprisingly, Mars LP offers a diverse range of such sonic explorations. Sumner Crane and China Burg’s guitars are chiefly responsible for warping sound – chugging, shimmering, aggregating into static. The lyrics, replete and simple, are uttered with undead nonchalance. Nancy Arlen’s drumming, swirled into the guitar mix, provides texture and urgency. Most unfaltering and readily discernible is Mark Cunningham’s bass, pacing each track with single, resounding notes.
With this decade’s passing of both Crane and Arlen, it’s particularly poignant to hear these recordings. They, like the provoking music that they created, ended too soon.
From album to album, Indian Jewelry find surprisingly eclectic ways to express their wild and dense musical instincts. We Are the Wild Beast buried its melodies under heroic doses of distortion, hissing electronics, and ominous attitude, while Invasive Exotics reined in that surface chaos to hone in on the droning heart of the band's music. Free Gold! goes in another direction altogether, focusing on the subtler side of Indian Jewelry's music that crept out only occasionally on their earlier work. Instead of abrasive blasts, the relatively subdued, often lulling textures here give these songs a woozy, hallucinatory feel, even when the drum machines stiffen and the guitars and keyboards turn jagged and atonal, as on "Temporary Famine Ship," which sounds like it's driven by a hive of metal insects and whip-cracking robots. Aside from this song and "Hello! Africa"'s swaggering synth rock menace, Free Gold!'s overall vibe is mostly mellow and hallucinogenic. Many of the album's best moments have the gritty shimmer of an oil slick, whether it's "Swans"' huge drones, which feel as hazy and suffocating as heat shimmer, "Walking on the Water"'s viscous backward guitars, or the gorgeous yet sinister bliss of "Overdrive." The wasabi-like sting of Indian Jewelry's previous weird aggressiveness is missed occasionally, butFree Gold! makes up what it lacks in intensity with variety. "Everyday"'s close harmonies and acoustic guitars are strikingly different than any of the band's previous work, as are the shambling psych-pop of "Pompeii" or the free-falling electronics on "Syllabic Viaagra." With a range from suffocating to cavernous, from jangly psych rock to industrial-tinged rants, Free Gold! shows that Indian Jewelry's music is growing ever more distinctive and sophisticated.
Will Oldham's first album under the Palace rubric, There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You, seemed to emerge from under a cloud of mystery on its first release in 1993. The first edition had no credits save a list of names under the heading "Impossible Without," leading to all manner of speculation in the indie community about who was responsible; the album sounded as if some ancient songsters who had somehow escaped Harry Smith's attention years before had recorded a session in their living room, which somehow found its way to the offices of Drag City. On There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You, Oldham sounds like a lost-lost cousin of the Louvin Brothers who, after ending up on skid row, is equally convinced that Satan is real, since he smells his foul breath every waking moment of his life. Oldham's stark, intimate tales of sin, lust, alcohol, and hopelessness are fascinating, horribly compelling stuff, and while it would be easy for this material to sound ironic or condescending, it isn't -- Oldham makes his characters' shame, confusion, and desperate search for grace real and genuinely moving. There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You may not be the best Palace album, but it is the work where Will Oldham's obsession with sin and redemption shines forth with the most painful and absorbing clarity.
Originally a fan club only release of all new compositions, most of them co-written by Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout, Tonics and Twisted Chasers was reissued on CD by Rockathon Records with five bonus tracks in 1997. The characteristic Guided by Voices hallmarks are here: contorted psyche fuzz guitar on "Satellite"; lovely, pensive ballads like "Key Losers" and "Look, It's Baseball"; rawboned, fractured Who ("Ha Ha Man," "Girl From the Sun"); a helium-toned piano jingle, "Universal Nurse Finger." At times, Tonics and Twisted Chasers is almost the concept album -- though on a less-grand and less-produced scale-that Mag Earwhig! wanted to be but didn't quite reach, revolving around the point of view of growing up in Midwest nowhere ("At the Farms," "Look, It's Baseball"), and so is melancholy and resigned while somehow remaining celebratory. It even contains a similar but stripped-down and shorter version of a song that became a part of the Mag Earwhig! song cycle, "Knock 'Em Flyin.'" What is most amazing about Tonics and Twisted Chasers (and GBV's ouevre, in general) is that this album, despite its original limited pressing, is not even close to a throwaway or fan-only release. It may not be quite as accessible as the band's larger indie-label output, but it nonetheless stands up exceptionally well to the rest of the Guided by Voices catalog.
Paced by the title track, one of Donovan's best singles, 1966's Sunshine Superman heralded the coming psychedelic age with a new world/old world bent: several ambitious psychedelic productions and a raft of wistful folk songs. Producer Mickie Most fashioned a new sound for the Scottish folksinger, a sparse, swinging, bass-heavy style perfectly complementing Donovan's enigmatic lyrics and delightfully skewed, beatnik delivery. The two side-openers, "Sunshine Superman" and "Season of the Witch," are easily the highlights of the album; the first is the quintessential bright summer sing-along, the second a chugging eve-of-destruction tale. The rest of Sunshine Superman is filled with lengthy, abstract, repetitive folk jams, perfect for lazy summer afternoons, but more problematic when close attention is paid. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and a chamber quartet, the second track, "Legend of a Girl Child Linda," plods on for nearly seven minutes, Donovan's hippie-dippie delivery rendering "lace" into "layyyzzz." After that notable low point, he performs much better, tingling a few spines with his enunciation on the ancient-sounding folksongs "Guinevere," "Three King Fishers," and "Ferris Wheel." Elsewhere, he salutes the Jefferson Airplane on "The Fat Angel" and fellow British folkie Bert Jansch on "Bert's Blues." Donovan's songs are quite solid, but Mickie Most's insistence on extroverted productions (it would grow even more pronounced with time) resulted in a collection of songs that sound good on their own but aren't very comfortable in context.
It’s been ten months since the Nothing People’s debut album - Anonymous - came out and since then we’ve heard nothing but praise. In fact, the record wound up on many a "Best of 2008" list. We are thinking that Late Night, their second full length, is gonna make even more people happy. From the sci-fi, psych, proto punk bombast of the first, the Nothing People shift gears into a moodier, darker, and creepier existance. On Late Night you hear hints of Dream Syndicate’s Karl Precoda, the later fucked up work of Scott Walker, the bad vibe side of Syd Barrett, and bits from that obscure subterranean world where psych met glam on a downward loop. This record does sound like a late night, on a deserted highway, maybe somewhere around the farm town of Orland, CA, where these three - nope four (they added a former Monoshock keyboardist!) - are from.
Buy It Here!
Determined as ever to retain his reputation as the most prolific man in indie rock, in 1999 Robert Pollard launched his ongoing series of Fading Captain record releases (most issued through his own Rockathon label), which gave him a platform for his many side projects outside Guided by Voices as well as material considered too esoteric for his "real" albums. The Fading Captain series eventually accumulated 48 releases before Pollard opted to pull the plug in 2007 (three years after Pollard dissolved GBV to launch a solo career), with the anthology Crickets drawing the serial to a close. Crickets is a two-CD set that collects 50 tunes from the various Fading Captain singles, EPs, and albums, along with six unreleased tracks, so even completists will feel compelled to pick this up. Since product overkill is a way of life for Pollard, Crickets would seemingly be welcome as a way of gleaning the high points from a large pool of fairly obscure work, but one thing that becomes clear to anyone familiar with Pollard's music is that he was shrewd enough to save his best songs for his higher-profile albums, and though there are some excellent pop songs present and nothing here slips below a respectable B-minus, a lot of this stuff sounds awfully similar after a while. Since Pollard also used the Fading Captain releases as a forum for his more off-kilter work, plenty of songs here revel in their own eccentricities -- sound effects, droning guitars, sloppiness even by GBV standards -- and though some of them display a certain charm, more often the extraneous stuff just takes the focus away from the melodies that make Pollard's best work memorable. And while Pollard's top-shelf music rocks hard, too much of Crickets simply meanders. The Fading Captain releases were records intended for hardcore Robert Pollard fans, and Crickets doesn't do much to convince more casual observers that there's buried treasure here to be found in them, since this lacks the cohesion and charge of even the lesser GBV albums.
On Hospital, former Pavement drummer Gary Young debuted his quirky style of minimalist folk music to a worldwide audience. On the first track, "Plant Man," Young exhibits a poppy acoustic guitar strum and a playful singing style. What follows is a roller coaster of chaotic and disjointed songs, from the repetitive singalong of "Foothill Blvd" to the sluggish and somber "Warren." The title track, "Hospital for the Chemically Insane," is a short and simplistic track, which is followed by the eccentric and jovial "Birds in Traffic." "Ralph the Vegetarian Robot" is easily the silliest track on the disc, displaying Young's enthusiastic and childish personality. His clean and lively cover of "Wipe Out" showcases his musicianship better than the rest of the disc. After the whimsical "Hooks of the Hiway," the disc ends with two unlisted bonus tracks, an alternate version of "Where Are You At" and a haunting and slowed-down version of "Foothill Blvd." As a whole, the disc is a chaotic and rambling collection of frantic songs from a man desperate to be known as more than the former drummer of one of the 1990s' most influential indie rock bands, Pavement. The disc was recorded at Louder Studios in Stockton, CA, in 1994.
Green River was the mid-'80s supergroup that introduced members of both Mudhoney and Pearl Jam to the alternative world. Despite their Seattle pedigree, this album is exactly what you would expect from a pairing of the two groups. Mudhoney fans will probably not like the heavy metal dynamics of the group, while Pearl Jam fans might not appreciate the raspy voice of Mark Arm and the sleazy guitar work from Steve Turner. But in reality, it is a good album from a band that never quite gelled together. "Come on Down" might be the best song here; with its descending riff and Arm's passionate wails, it sounds like a distant cousin to Mudhoney's "Here Comes Sickness." "Swallow My Pride" would go on to be their "biggest" song, featured on a few compilations and covered by the Fastbacks. Oddly enough, the version found here is not that exciting, mostly because Arm just does not sound like he cares. Although this problem arises a few more times, the rest of the album is like a heavy metal version of Mudhoney, which is not really a bad thing. Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard, both self-proclaimed Iron Maiden fans, wrote most of the riff-oriented music. Mark Arm keeps this from really going too far into metal territory with his Iggy-like screaming. But in the end, Green River is a worthwhile listen but not something that points towards the bright futures that its band members would enjoy.