Far East Family Band

Parallel World (1976)


A great album from these Japanese psych legends. The influence of Klaus Schulze (producer) is far stronger here than it was on Nipponjin (where he was basically re-recording older songs, anyway), as the blatant Pink Floyd worship turns to blatant krautrock worship. That’s not a bad thing because these guys are exceptionally skilled at both. Things start off with the ambient piece “Metempsychosis” that I’d probably believe was composed by Schulze himself. “Entering” follows and for its first half is more of the same before it really gets going about five minutes in, approaching something like an Ash Ra/Cosmic Jokers type climax with a lot of synth and some excellent drums. “Kokoro” is a return to their older sound with a focus on soaring guitar and pleasant vocals, but once again using a lot more synth this time. The title track is the big half hour epic to close out the album, a highlight to be sure. In the krautrock tradition, a tripped out bass line evolves out of the ambient wash, with the occasional appearance of ghostly voices and more synths. Just when you think the song’s over, it goes on for another fifteen minutes of twinkling keyboards, mellotron experiments, and the like. The influence of band member Kitaro is also notable here, who in short time would go on to create many, many albums of new age claptrap. I do hope my review doesn’t come across as being negative, because this is a tremendous album and definitely their most experimental work. While this is generally regarded as their finest album and a magnum opus of Japanese prog, I’m just not so big into the electronic noodling that makes up a good portion of the songs and generally prefer their earlier output. I’m in the minority with this opinion though, so don’t take my word for it.

Henry Cowell-Piano Music

July 29, 2008

Henry Cowell

Piano Music (Smithsonian-Folkways 1994)

Link removed at the request of Smithsonian-Folkways

It is difficult, almost impossible, to redefine an instrument as familiar as the piano, but Henry Cowell did so by reaching into it and using the strings to manipulate his playing. His work with tone clusters and string manipulation inspired Bela Bartok to adopt his methods. In addition, John Cage utilized his methods to develop the prepared piano. His maverick ways led him to commission Leon theremin to create an instrument called the Rhythmicon that was later popularized by Joe Meek. Cowell even spent four years in San Quentin Prison on a “morals” due to his bisexuality and continued to compose and conduct the prison band until his pardon in 1942. After his release, his music became a bit more conservative, but he mentored such musicians as Lou Harrison and Burt Bacharach and served as a consultant to Folkways.

That is just a drop in the bucket in this man’s fantastic and creative career. There is something so powerful about how he strikes the keys. Sometimes he demands your attention with thick clusters of slammed keys, but he is equally magnetic when he plays in a more minimalistic style. It is hard to quantify the emotion spent by the striking of a key, but his playing truly leaves me in awe of how one person can transform a musical instrument into a magical one. There is something elegant, yet brutal and severe about how he approaches the piano. He turns the piano inside out as he uses every inch of his instrument to create a powerful, dynamic music that inspires and moves me like few others can. Since I’ve been rambling about phobias and the spiritual all evening, it is only fitting that I share some of the most heavenly sounds thine ears have heard. It isn’t always pretty, but it does hit upon personal chords that remind me that music can be a transcendent force in our lives.

Ecstasy of St. Theresa

Fluidtrance Centauri ep


During the heyday of shoegaze, there were many more classic eps than actual albums. Slowdive, Ride, Swervedriver, Moonshake, Telescopes, Moose and others had their brightest achievements on their first eps, not their full length albums. Yes, Pygmalion, Mezcal Head and Nowhere are great albums, but their singles and eps just encapsulate all that was excellent about these bands in a consise statement. All of the aforementioned bands had bright futures in which they delivered on their potential to varying degrees, but there was one band that only had that one great ep and not much else.

Czechoslovakia wasn’t exactly a hotbed for musical innovation, but it did spawn Ecstasy of St. Theresa. the band was named after St. Theresa’s vision of a handsome angel that appeared at her bedside to pierce her with a spear and set her her heart afire with passion. I always loved the sexual nature of this beatific image and it fits the hazy, sensual air of their ethereal music. The ep is derived from a Peel Session and stands as the pinnacle of their short career. Later albums found them embracing early 70s Pink Floyd and the ambient scene of the time, but these three songs tapped into the majesty of the Cocteau Twins at their most ornate moments circa Treasure and mated it to the woozy feedback of My Bloody Valentine. It is a combo attempted by most of their contemporaries, but none of them succeeded except this band. The first track”Fluidum” is so perfect and such a distillation of all that I loved about the few years this genre thrived. It is oozing with a lazy sexuality that reminds one of a day spent in a bed exploring the birds and the bees.


These Hands of Mine (Skin Graft 1998 )


Like many of you, my phobias are somewhat irrational. I flinch at the sight of Great White Sharks. When Deep Blue Sea came out, I had to cover my eyes during all movie previews because I couldn’t bear the sight of animatronic sharks on the big screen. I even get nervous on boats due to the possibility that a fin may break through the waves. Rollercoasters are another thorn in my side. I’ve ridden on some rickety devices and screamed like a baby after the first moments of an incline. However, I always hold this album in high esteem for its ability to provide retard strength on a trip to Kennywood Amusement Park.

I was visiting Pittsburgh and we had the bright idea to get high and listed to Quintron’s These Hands of Mine all the way to Kennywood as I kept puffing away in the hope that it would alleviate my anxiety about hurtling to my death on a goddamn ride. Looking back, this was not the best course of action, but it worked like a charm. I became a big boy and laughed like a village idiot on every accursed contraption in my path. Quintron was the carnival barker that I needed to prod me out of my skin.

My sober self prefers his work on the Bulb label or his collaboration with the Oblivians, but I always loved Quintron’s thoroughly campy and sleazy version of r&b and soul on These Hands of Mine. I’m always a sucker for the Hammond organ, so its prevalence on this record makes it even more appealing to me. It’s hard to name an influence or touchstone for his work because I don’t know if anyone else has orbited this planet before. It’s sloppy as hell. Nothing is actually catchy. The co-star of this mess is the Drum Buddy, a “mechanically-rotating, five-oscillator, light-activated drum machine which can either be set to play automatically, or manipulated to create a number of different sound effects.” He uses his wife Flossie to provide high-pitched, cartoonish backing vocals to his rants. It’s downright mental and I don’t recommend it to everyone, but it’s a lovably noisy and absurd mess that serves as an excellent soundtrack for your next road trip to an amusement park.


Revelater (Elektra 1996)


The major label frenzy to sign anyone within sniffing distance of your Nirvanas and Sonic Youths resulted in greater exposure for some and ruin for others. Were advertisements in shitty rags, MTV airplay and product placement in the rural malls really going to make Jennyanykind, Scrawl, Jesus Lizard and Jawbox more palatable to most folks? Hell, most of these bands weren’t even palatable to me by this point.

I have no clue why a major label like Elektra decided to sign a band that was enamored by Jesus Christ, Jerry Garcia, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Howling Wolf, Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd and market it as an indie-rock album. Sure, their work had a raw, punky edge at times and their earliest work was released by the No. 6 label(Beme Seed, Crystallized Movements, Luna, Nada Surf, etc), but this was surely a big ass square block in a teensy-weensy round hole. It’s a shame since Revelater cuts the fat from their meandering jams and rants which results in bizarre southern rock songs about the apocalypse, humility in the face of god’s power, the dangers of a sinful life and repentance.

This isn’t a shtick–No sight of high pitched whines and tree costumes ala Danielson. Michael Holland’s lyrics are earnest explorations of his own struggles with faith and the misdeeds of his past. He comes off as troubled and angry on half of the tracks while the other half play loose and fancy free with light-hearted hippie psych that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early 70s Dead record. I’m more interested in the angry, conflicted side of Holland that searches for meaning in the universe in a three-minute pop song on his major label debut. What were they thinking? It was commercial suicide and sit kind of sunk the band for good. Yes, they released many more albums, but they sort of blew their cosmic, soul searching load on this one.

Revelater got no respect from anyone. Its been dismissed by hipsters, hippies and christian rockers alike. However, I believe it may be one of the most underrated albums to result from the major label feeding frenzy of the 90s. Revelater is a fried, almost paranoid ode to the power of a vengeful god masquerading as an indie-rock album. Love it to death and like most of this band’s work. i’ll be posting more this week.

A.R. & Machines

Echo (1972)


A double album of quiet, spaced krautrock from this band led by Achim Reichel. Comparable with the kind of thing Ash Ra Tempel was doing around the same time, but a bit more laid back. Klaus Schulze supposedly performs some vocals on this album, and it’s actually somewhat similar to the solo material he would release in the future. To be honest, it’s bit too much to take in one sitting if you aren’t in the right mood for it, but they’re great at what they do. Long tracks blending into each other, never really reaching a climax but rather shifting in and out of various psychedelic sounds and passages. Reichel’s guitar sound is great, and the occasional electronic flourish adds to the journey. The only skippable track is the final one, consisting mostly of vocal experiments that irritate more than anything else. That’s about it, a classic of krautrock that probably could have benefited considerably with some more editing (as is the case with a lot of krautrock). Julian Cope writes a more detailed review, if you’re interested.

Arab Strap

Elephant Shoe (Jetset 1999)


In the mythos of latter-day Scottish indie pop, Arab Strap were born to serve as Lucifer opposite the Christly-clean Belle and Sebastian. It was less than a year on from Belle & Sebastian’s breakthrough, If You’re Feeling Sinister, that Arab Strap pooled their analog resources to make a distinctly American (re: Drag City) indie rock record, spiked with a tar-thick Scottish brogue, The Week Never Starts Round Here. Their style was a slovenly, bedroom-spare assembly of nicotine-drabbed booze laments, and Raymond Carver-like orts of lives wretched and heretofore underexamined–the Television Personalities were rolling in their unmade graves.

Fast forward half a decade: no one remembered Trainspotting; Belle and Sebastian’s earnest democracy bled them of any remaining mystique, scattering far and wide their remaining flecks of sharp songwriting; and still no one knew who the fuck the incendiary Frankie Miller was.

That Orange Juice revival was not yet upon us.

So Elephant Shoe was a marvelous surprise from a band that seemed poised to peddle their Casio pop wares on into the twilight with no hope for variation or discount.

Truthfully, there isn’t a hell of a lot of variation here.

But that’s good. Because instead of going calypso, or grime, or whatever, Arab Strap zeroed in on their familiar sump of couch jockey malaise, this time with an almost cosmic sense of resonance to round out their characteristic self-deprecations. Needless to say, if Elephant Shoe had been this band’s point of departure their name in lights might be much larger (and shining still).

“Cherubs” opens the record with a canned goth beat and high register piano straight from early Sisters of Mercy. And when Malcolm Middleton pipes in it’s with a kind of obtusely seductive sincerity that always touched the edges of Arab Strap, but never quite needled to the heart. Suddenly it does.

The ensuing set is well-measured, sophisticated, and creatively aware of the lo-fi McGuffin and how to work with it. It does occasionally sputter, but not without hitting some terrific auburn grace notes along the way.

“Aries The Ram” is one of them. It’s a well-worn path for Arab Strap: plodding, reminiscent fragments of a dim romantic memory. But the air is different. The pristine guitar accents recall And Also The Trees in their pastoral zenith, and other such neo-Edwardian heaviness. It’s peculiar, though welcome; there was a creeping possibility that Arab Strap would go down as the Scottish Smog. Inside the rich gothic spaces of Elephant Shoe there are plentiful traces of Wild Love and Red Apple Falls. Though really, something in the bones of Arab Strap is just a little to impish and unserious. It’s better that way.

Various Artists-Killed by Death Vols. 6&7

Volume 6: http://www.mediafire.com/?9l9wynidr2b

Volume 7: http://www.mediafire.com/?9wn2wxe6myx

Man, there are fifteen volumes of this series to post and I’d like to return to fey daydreams of lanky gentlemen strumming their precious guitars. However, a promise is a promise, so I’m gonna start posting these in twos to speed up the process. To be honest, volume five is a bit of letdown, but six is almost as good as the first three volumes. Volume seven is good, not great. As I have stated before, the worst of this series is still light years beyond much of what was released between 1977-1982.

Volume Six
Kids-This is Rock ‘n Roll
Funeral Dress-Army Life
Dirt Shit-Exit
Insults-Just a Doper
Ed Nasty & The Dopeds-You Sucker
Hitler SS-Slave
Tampax-UFO Dictator
Revenge 88-Neon Lights

Screaming Urge-Homework
Frantix-My Dad’s a Fucking Alcoholic
Psykik Volts-Totally Useless
Fire Exit-Time Wall
Mark Truth & The Liars-Prisoners of Time
Se-Meilla Voisi Tunaau Olla Hauskaa

Volume 7
Village Pistols-Big Money
Fire Exit-Time Wall
Rude Norton-Tits on the Beach
Chain Gang-My Fly
Guilty Razors-I Don’t Wanna Be Rich
Ed Nasty & The Dopeds-I’m Gonna Be Everything
Absentees-Tryin’ to Mess With Me
Dot Vaeth Group-Armed Robbery

Cigarettes-They’re Back Again
Lost Kids-Cola Freaks
Fresh Color-The Source
Hated-Seize the Middle East
Maids-Back to Bataan
DDT-I’m Walking Down the Psychopath
Sperma-Zuri Punx (mislabeled-actually “Bomb” from the Zuri Punx 7″)
(not labeled)Ice 9-Out Out Out
MD-Manisch Depressiv

Various Artists

Killed by Death Vol. Five


Not compiled by the folks behind earlier volumes, the fifth installment in the Killed by Death series. It begins a slow decline in quality, but it’s 60% killer, the rest is sophomoric punk shits and giggles. Tags are a bit screwy, so here is the tracklisting.

Black Easter-What the Fuck
X-Terminators-Microwave Radiation
Molls-White Stains
Stalin-(title in Japanese)
Dieter Meier-Cry for Fame
Maggots-(Lets Get, Lets Get) Tammy Wynette
Cowboys-Teenage Life
Hubble Bubble-Look Around

Neo Punkz-If I Watch TV
RPA-Shoot the Pope
Teddy & the Frat Girls-Clubnite
Annonymous-Corporate Radio
Riot 303-Drugs
Cracked Actor-Nazi School
Stiphnoyds-Afraid of the Russians
Kids-No Monarchy
Hubble Bubble-Sweet Rot

The Muffins

Open City (1985)


A compilation of material recorded from 1977-80. For the most part, these songs capture the band during a transitional period, between their earlier Canterbury influenced days and their later RIO direction. The first seven tracks are taken from their 1980 demo tape and although there are a few remnants of 1978’s Manna/Mirage, songs like “Antidote to Drydock” and “Under Dali’s Wing” are far more abrasive and avant-garde than anything found on that album. Two of the coolest songs here, “Vanity, Vanity” and “Dancing in Sunrise, Switzerland” are outtakes from Fred Frith’s “Gravity”, an excellent album on which the Muffins played as one of the backup bands. The next songs include a few live pieces and improvisations as well as “Expected Freedom”, an outtake from Manna/Mirage that sounds quite different than anything else they’ve done. With the track listing in reverse chronological order, it’s interesting to end things with the fourteen minute, very heavily Canterbury influenced “Not Alone”, apparently one of the first pieces the band wrote. Incredible that they were making such first-rate music so early in their formation, even if the influences were obvious. One thing to note is that the sound quality on this compilation is fantastic the whole way through, even the live songs. It’s a great album that works well as an introduction to the Muffins as well as being of interest to people who are already familiar with them.