Aphex Twin

Donkey Rhubarb ep (Warp/Sire 1995)


Man, I still am amenable to spending a couple hours listening to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Every buzz and drone sings to my weary soul. Love it just as much as the day I picked it up from a godforsaken Western PA chain store on the day of its release. Now, I like most of his ouvre, but everything he released after this ep makes me wish he expanded on the themes and ideas located here. Donkey Rhubarbs is the most concise summary of all that was good about Richard D. James before he began giggling in his tank and posing for the Wire with pantyhose over his noggin.

Each of the four tracks represent four sides of Aphex Twin. The last two tracks are perfect summations of his rapidfire take on idm, Detroit techno and acid while the openers explore terrain that was sadly abandoned.

“Pancake Lizard” starts the ep in dramatic fashion. It actually redeems trip-hop as a genre instead of the 99-pound weakling it truly was. Outside of Portishead and possiblly Tricky’s debut, name me one worthwhile trip-hop album. Slowed down hip-hop beats, limp drones and diva rejects abounded in this misguided genre. However, Aphex Twin treats the genre like a soundtrack as he melds the slow-motion drama of Selected Ambient Works and grafts it to a simple, but effective beat that ultimately wields all of the tension trip-hop lacked.

However, “Icct Hedral” is the one that really hurts. Why couldn’t he have explored the world of George Crumb, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Lalo Schifrin as he does here. This collaboration with Glass is breathtaking and frustrating because he never really delved into classical music in such a way ever again. From the forboding chorus and thick bass to the delicate idm tinkling replicated by a string section, this track shows a side of Richard D. James that could’ve been groundbreaking. Before anyone complains, he did use strings and incorporate elements of classical music into his music, but this track is a grandiose moment that points to what should have been. Instead, his attention span got the better of him and jokey drill and bass was the next step.

3Ds – Hellzapoppin’

June 26, 2008


Hellzapoppin’ (Flying Nun/First Warning 1991)


One of the benefits of being a youngster in the early to mid 90s was the major label rush to sign anything remotely related to Nirvana and Sonic Youth to a lesser extent. It provided such anomalies as major label deals for Foetus and the Boredoms and provided leeway to indie bands like Sebadoh and Pavement to fly obscurities like Dog Faced Hermans and the 3ds over to be their opening acts on tour. Yes, it also resulted in countless pretenders and imitators out for a buck, but when hasn’t that been the case with a genre’s short-lived popularity.

I haven’t really delved into my undying love for New Zealand’s Flying Nun label and how bands like the Verlaines, Bats, Chills, Magick Heads, Dead C, Snapper and others warped my young mind and altered my view of a pop song. I got to see the 3ds on tour with Pavement around the time of their Venus Trail album that was released on Merge. Hel, I may have hallucinated this, but i remember seeing a video for their “Outer Space” video on MTV’s 120 minutes. Go figure. I picked up the 3Ds’ Hellzapoppin’ album a few years earlier and fell in love with how they took inspiration from Sonic Youth’s noisier attempts at a pop tune and made it their own. Although it was a larger venue, they filled up the theatre with a kaleidoscope of feedback and were much heavier than their records hinted. Consisting of members of Snapper and Look Blue Go Purple, their albums are filled with unpretentious pop songs slathered with lots of noise and sweet sentiments. It’s a really catchy album that gets forgotten when put in context of New Zealand’s “kiwi pop” scene. Although their music was accessible, the band had enough rough edges and personality that their music still sounds fresh today. I guess I can cut to the chase and say that fans of pop songs buried in feedback with a few quiet moments in between will find much to love here.


June 26, 2008


s/t(Private Press 1970)


I guess you could label this as krautrock since the band is German and it falls under the category of psychedelia, but it bears little resemblance to Can, Faust, Cluster or any other influential groups of this era. Siloah’s self-titled debut shares more with the disjointed, communal folk of Comus’ First Utterance or Amon Duul’s Paradieswarts Duul than anything else. They do not share Comus’ disturbing lyrical bent, but these tracks capture the shambling, expansive qualities of both bands at their best.

Siloah’s debut doesn’t match up to the brilliance of the aforementioned albums, but it is an essential listen for anyone who has spent hours communing with these two classics. Much of it consists of stoned ethno-folk jams that meander in the best possible ways, but I always come back to this album for the 18 minute track “Aluminum Wind” which is epic in all the right places. It has a slow, dissonant buildup complete with distant percussion and flute until the singer starts warbling about Disneyland, Christmas trees, drinking your eyes and other surreal musings. It is whacked and incoherent, but it does tickle my fancy.


Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart (1972)


There is much love within my heart for the Incredible String Band and their meandering hippie opuses about minotaurs and good ol’ cousin caterpillar. I remember the first time my punk ass saw the cover of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and snickering at the commune of foppish souls in technicolor coats and beaded necklaces, but once my viewpoint was forever altered once I actually heard it years later. My narrow mindedness isn’t much of a surprise since I once thought oversized t-shirts, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and malt liquor were enjoyable, so I wasn’t exactly ahead of the curve.

Clive Palmer was an integral part of the first Incredible String Band record which was a more straighforward affair that sort of reminds me of an Appalachian via English skiffle-folk version of the Holy Modal Rounders’ first two lps. Yeah, it isn’t an entirely accurate description, but it’ll do for now. Clive left the band before they expanded and explored more abstract, experimental territory. In the meantime, he joined the Famous Jug Band and recorded a solo effort entitled Banjoland, but these outlets were lesser lights. At the urging of Ralph McTell, he formed COB. or Clive’s Original Band, and recorded two of the best English folk/psych albums of all-time. First came 1970s Spirit of Love, then came their grand finale Moyshe McStiff.

Supposedly a song cycle about Crusades, Moyshe McStiff’s title and cover image evoke a mystical quality that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incredible String Band cover. In fact, the music is eerily reminiscent of their 60s recordings as the band’s invention of a dulcimer/sitar hybrid, the dulcitar, echoes the woozy, mystical vibes of ISB’s most stoned moments. Biblical themes abound as COB references Judah, Solomon, Martha and Mary as the band delves into spiritual quests and the meaning of love. It is such an earnest, sincere album that would seem ridiculous if it wasn’t so gorgeous.

The centerpiece of the album is “Let It Be You” which may be one of the most tender, but simple love songs I’ve heard. It is a celebration of the power of song to immortalize true love as well as a tender sentiment. It is a testament to power of words as well as the ephemeral quality of our affections. It is full of dedication and uncertainty just like those first exhilarating months of a new relationship.

To put it it down right, to make it true

if my songs were people, this could be you

but if i lose it, or just confuse it

lets make it summer, lets make it you

and when i’m longing let it be you

and when im giving let it be you

i woke this morning and without warning

someone was near me and it was you

Baby Bird-Ugly Beautiful

June 26, 2008

Baby Bird

UglY Beautiful(Atlantic Records 1997)


There’s a chill in the 1970 Maysles Brothers movie Gimme Shelter, documenting the previous year’s Altamont Speedway Concert with the Rolling Stones, felt long before Hells Angels bludgeoned a black concert-goer to death. It’s not one moment so much as it is a groan stretched across the day, watching the eyes glaze and drift like soap bubbles, and the Aquarian values of fraternity and easy feelin’ dissolve, without warning, into confusion, sickness and desperation. Looking back the resulting tragedy seems an almost mild outcome compared to the generational nosedive this movie portends—and captures.

But that’s the truth. It’s all over before you know it.

Like so many soapy-eyed hippies, Baby Bird represented the complicated, at times resistant, demise of a musical moment. Like Altamont, the band’s career-defining Ugly Beautiful carried a strange intensity fraught with idea confusion, thick genius-fatigue, and naked emotional channeling. The cynical “45 & Fat”, found head/primary Birdman, Stephen Jones, vowing to sing about love til long after the buzz has faded and his looks were gone. But in the chorus he showed the promise broken before the song left his pen, sweetly singing his own would-be Coca Cola jingle. Perhaps Jones was thumbing his nose at an air-headed Oasis, who had turned an already famous Coke jingle into the hit “Shakermaker”. But the result just came off sounding jaded–for relative newcomer Jones and the state of Brit-pop on the whole.

Ugly Beautiful had its warm spots, though. As if ensured by law the John Squire guitar jangle abounded, but in opener, “Goodnight”, Baby Bird seemed more infatuated with The Smiths, The The, or even James—British pop the lot of them, but not exactly, you know, Brit Pop. While England reveled in a great revival of 60’s rave-up r&b with Shoalsy/Stonesy faves by Primal Scream and The Verve, here was a band who was rediscovering the late new wave Warne Livesey sound not a half-decade in the slide.

The grinding non-sequitur, “Jesus is my Girlfriend”, flirted with the Italo side of The Fall, but lacked the characteristic Mark E. Smith acid; it was either not erotic enough to be good dance music, or not witty enough to satirize it. Still, it’s enduringly fun to nod to such a baffling premise.

“You’re Gorgeous”, a small hit, could’ve been a post-Kick INXS ballad, and might just as easily have put food on the table for Mundy or Robbie Williams; or today, a second coat of wax on James Blunt’s second BMW. In short it was foolish, clichéd, hopeful, and possibly perfect. “Me and You”, a quixotic electro-pop hymn marked by that Real World label deep-beat pop warmth, in which invariably macaws could be heard, represented the Ugly Beautiful album melting down in the final turn. Jones could find few words not in the title, without growing exasperated, switching languages, or going plain simple, as if turning the palette over on the canvas when the muse left his side.

Brit Pop really only lasted two years. The Blur vs Oasis class warfare mounted in 1995, and by 1997 Baby Bird was sorting through the remains, making an occasionally thrilling art rock spectacle of a declining zeitgeist. Lots of folks would have you believe the real Altamont moment came with Gay Dad’s Leisure Noise two years later. I’d buy that–though it too had its moments. But by the time Baby Bird peaked you could see the glazed-over looks, and sense the rumble of a mass freakout coming on. It was time to fold up the tent and remember where you ‘d parked the van.