Psychic TV-Pagan Day

November 29, 2008

Psychic TV

Pagan Day (1986, reissued by Cleopatra in 1994)

Psychic TV may be one of the most hit or miss groups that I actually love. There is so much disappointment to be found for someone interested in exploring their discography. However, their high points are so fucking brilliant that I easily excuse them for their more indulgent forays. Dreams Less Sweet, Force thee Hand of Chance, Allegory and Self and Pagan Day are the highlights of their work. There is something about these four albums that seems truly sinister and damaged while retaining a gentle beauty lacking from many of their peers. Maybe it is Genesis P-Orridge’s love of English folk and psych that lends their bleak worldview such bucolic warmth, but somehow you can see the humanity underneath the ugliness on these releases.

Dreams Less Sweet may be a better album, but Pagan Day is the one that always blows my boo-boo loose. I first encountered it a few years back and listened to it while wandering some anonymous department store and the album made me feel so alienated from those around me. Although it was originally released as some limited edition picture disc, it may be the pinnacle of their career. There is so much going on here as psychedelia, industrial chatter, folk, misanthropy and inappropriately funky basslines collide in an alien manner. Plus, their is a great cover of Pearls Before Swine’s “Translucent Carriages:” where Genesis’ artless vocals suit the song better than the original.

Personally, I find Pagan Day to be the best entryway to the world of Psychic TV since it alternately fried and delicate and accomodates all of the influences that shaped the 80s version of the band. Therefore, if you’ve been burned by picking up one of the duds as your first exposure to Psychic TV, then download this and work your way through the other three. If you like those, then maybe it is time to work your way through a maddenlingly inconsistent and vast discography that rewards more than it frustrates.

Vladislav Delay-Anima

November 24, 2008

Vladislav Delay

Anima (Mille Plateaux 2001)

Growing up in Philadelphia, I was lucky to have a duo of excellent college radio stations to introduce me to a cavalcade of strange and wonderful sounds that my meager paycheck could never quite afford. My teenage years as well as college breaks were spent glued to Princeton’s WPRB and Drexel’s WKDU because you truly heard the good, the bad and the ugly of what independent labels and assorted oddballs had to offer. One the internet was introduced to my measly existence, WFMU also swooped in to sink me further into a crippling addiction to music.

However, there is a distance or apathy that can arise once you’ve digested the major food groups and the airwaves seem to introduce to old friends instead of exciting new flames. Thankfully, life constantly provides sudden inspiration and spark because one lonely night brought Vladislav Delay’s Anima to my car radio.

It was a mundane evening filled with such highlights as shopping for clothing and toiletries when a WKDU DJ played Anima in its entirety and I literally took the longest route possible to the humdrum mall in order to soak in every single note. I’m a big fan of ambient music that can whisk me off to my own little world and the gentle, stuttering beats, synthesized whooshes and echo of their aftermath gripped me by the collar immediately. That isn’t to say that there aren’t hundreds of other albums that traverse the same byways and highways, but this one clicked with the cold air and sunset on my horizon. It was a perfect intersection of moment and music and I still associate with lonely drives to aimless destinations in the dead of winter. Although Delay’s music has made great stylistic strides since this early release, I always find myself nostalgic for the first moment that his music utterly bewitched me and summed up all I love about gazing at a starry sky and pondering the quieter moments in life.

Dillard and Clark

The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark (1969, reissued in 2000 by Demon)

I love all posted here, but occasionally I must pull you aside and state the absolute brilliance of a particular album. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark is one of those albums that reinforce the idealistic attitude twoards music and its ability to make the world so much more colorful by its very presence. To be honest, if you lack love for the Byrds, bluegrass, country and the richness of a well-told tale, then my hyperbole is a mere shout into a deaf ear. It may not be my favorite album in the entire world, but I’ve always felt it walked in lock step with my guardedly optimistic and relaxed personality. It’s a bruised, but hopeful collection of tunes that always nudge me in the right direction while reminded me that all is not sunshine in this dour world.

This Dillard slot in this duo is filled by Doug Dillard, one-half of the 60s most talented purveyors of bluegrass, while the Clark portion is taken up by Gene Clark, one of my favorite songwriters and engine behind the Byrds’ earliest classics. It is a perfect product of the late 60s when folk, country, bluegrass and rock all became a fountainhead for a bunch of long-hairs who crafted it into their own grubby visage. It may not reinvent a well-worn wheel, but it is a respectful nod to their heroes that could’ve only been recorded during this era. God knows that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were on the top of their game during this period, but these two leave the social commentary at the door and just focus on personal woes involving the meaning of life, love and the potential for happiness. It’s a humble, respectful album that breaks my heart only to slap a shit-eating grin on it during the next song. Although it may aim for simplicity, there is a grace and complexity to their songwriting that place it far beyond the others who drew from the same pond.

Sebastien Tellier

L’incroyable Verite (Astralwerks/Source 2001)

One of the first signings to Air’s Record Makers label after the success of their Moon Safari Lp, Sebastien Tellier’s first album is like a manic depressive cousin to Air’s sleek confections. Where Air seem to aim for perfection, Tellier aims for more sleazy and imperfect terrain. Sure, both have a love for intricate orchestration, harmony and the art of the soundtrack, but L’Incroyable Verite is a more troubled, introspective affair. If Moon Safari was the night of the party, L’incroyable verite is the dirty aftermath when you wake up in unfamiliar surroundings and trudge home with only a hazy sunrise to greet you. The beauty in these instrumentals is a moody echo of parties past and the feeble attempts to recreate a magic that escaped your grasp only hours ago.

Air serve as tellier’s backing band on this album and they seem to relish the opportunity to explore different shades of their musical palette. My only complaint is that Tellier’s breathy, depressing vocals are only used spaingly in favor of mournful horn arrangements and slow-motion chord progressions. Everything is one big hangover where each note is played so gently so as to not disturb this incessant downer. At times, it even sounds like some forgotten prog gem as it gets lost in a reverie of synthesizers and nearly medieval melodies, but L’Incroyable Verite is one of those weird albums that seems to borrow so much, yet seems totally unique in its own way. It’s hard to imagine that it was released in 2001 since it seems to truly belong to another era.

Rhythm and Sound w/Tikiman

Showcase(Burial Mix 1998)

Rhythm and Sound

Carrier/Density (R&S 005)

Great dub already sounds murky, filthy and reeking of a bong hit from another planet. I’ve always been a big fan of dub as a soundtrack to long drives to nowhere in particular since the music itself seems to lack a destination as well. In addition, the German Basic Channel label and its catalogue of stoned house and electronic meanderers also provided ample company on many of these same daytrips. Therefore I was tickled pink when I discovered that Basic Channel’s main duo of Mark Ernestus and Mauritz Von Oswald  were recording their own hypnotic take on dub under the moniker of Rhythm and Sound. The icing on this pot brownie was their collaboration with Paul St. Hilaire, otherwise known as Tikiman, a reggae vocalist whose laid-back delivery melded perfectly with their stoned, teutonic approach to dub.

Showcase is one of their earliest works and their only full-length collaboration with Tikiman and it may be my favorite release by both parties. I love the later lps and 12’s, but this one sounds most like it was recorded underneath the ocean as each beat and gently repetitive motif reverberates out of the speakers like a wayward pinball. It is mellow to the nth degree as Ernestus and Oswald’s compositions are almost narcoleptic in that they minimal to point where they almost threaten to fall apart into nothingness. There is a subtle, plodding bass that holds it all together, but Tikiman’s vocals are deconstructed and diced until they are sometime just used as accents instead of showpieces. However, Tikiman shines in his own sleepy manner when he strides to the forefront, but it serves best as a quick contrast to the echo and swirl of most of the album. Sometimes music can swing and groove from the sparsest of sounds and it is a testament to all involved that such a minimal album hits that sweet spot where the listener can do little but nod along to every single note.

As an added bonus, I am posting one of their later 12’s.

V-3-Photograph Burns

November 11, 2008


Photograph Burns (American/Onion 1996)

Rick Rubin’s American label started an offshoot named Onion Records that was run by record collector extraordinaire and Matador Records alumni, Johan Kugelberg. Kugelberg wasn’t given long to establish the label, but the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, V-3 and Brad Laner’s Electric Company weren’t exactly the most accessible acts to invest into during your opening salvo. Personally, I loved all three of these releases although the Stiffs Inc. and God Lives Underwater albums left me cold. Anyway you slice it, the label gave all three a wider stage to exploit during the last days of the major label feeding frenzy of indie rock esoterica and its also-rans.

I really found it kind of heartbreaking that V-3 mastermind and Columbuis, OH icon jim Shepard committed suicide in 1998 because Photograph Burns was the one album where he was able to channel all of his misanthropy and alienation into something conflicted and beautiful. It’s an angry and somewhat hateful album that takes aim at love, friendship and a multitude of betrayals, but avoids the psychedelic ugliness and swaths of noise that masked the bruised heart at the center of his work. It doesn’t hurt that his backing band tears through the punk numbers with a ferocity that finally matched the seething emotions rampant in his previous work. The opener “American Face” may be one of my favorite punk songs of the 90s as it busts through the gates like the MC5 as Shepard rails against American egotism while wishing he could remain in a narcotic cocoon. It’s full of loathing of country and self wrapped in a catchy shambles of a tune that I never get sick of listening to these days.

The slower tunes remind of Smog’s mid 90s work on Red Apple Falls and Doctor Came at Dawn if they were influenced by Chrome and the Killed by Death Series. In fact, Photograph Burns reminds me alot of Chrome’s Red Exposure if you subrtracted the beats and added even more bad intentions. When you trace the steps through his discography, Photograph Burns is even more depressing since his battles with narcotics and depression become apparent. I never knew the man, but his albums make me wish he found some sort of peace in his end because his music is a portrait of a tortured soul who never found any semblance of happiness.

Bokar Rimpoche

Sacred Chants and Tibetan Rituals from the Monastery of Mirik(Sub Rosa 2008)

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I am currently up to my elbows in 320 pages of poorly written research papers. Grades are due tomorrow and time has been scarce. I’ll be back to my usual scattershot self by next week. In the meantime, here is a hypnotic coundtrack to Guy Maezelle’s documentary Bokar Rimpoche: Meditation Master. I haven’t seen the film, but it tells the story of Bokar Rimpoche, close friend of the Dali Lama, who devoted his life to meditation in the mountains of Tibet. The music is alternately soothing and terrifying. Calming moans build in intensity as additional voices enter the fray. The cumulative effect is like having dozens of voices speaking to you at once while apocalyptic blurts emanate from some undetermined horn. Some of it reminds me of Tuvan throat singing, other parts rely solely on Rimpoche’s soothing voice reciting his teachings on meditation. Despite its msytical origins, I have crassly used it as aural wallpaper to help me cope with poor grammar, half-baked thesis statements and colorful slang.