Dirty Three

Sad and Dangerous(Poon Village 1995)


The title of the Dirty Three’s debut album is an apt declaration of what was accomplished here. There is something elegant and anguished at work here being performed by a trio who was simultaneously masterful and rough around the edges. They were a bit of a paradox at the outset before they sanded away some of the jagged edges into a more streamlined and contoured unit. I do love all of the albums that followed, but Sad and Dangerous is forceful, direct and embraces its imperfections and outbursts where subsequent releases just aimed for a musical approximation of loneliness, regret and despair. Worthwhile pursuits to be sure, but this one was full of piss and vinegar too and it’s essence is a prickly and difficult beast.

Culled from a demo cassette recorded in 1992-1993, Sad and Dangerous captures the brilliant beginnings of a trio exploring the parameters of what was possible in an instrumental rock band with  violinist Warren Ellis as its centerpiece underpinned by an understated, but at times ferocious combo of guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Mick White. Their occasional swan dives into dissonance aren’t surprising since Turner and White previously played in the abrasive punk band Venom P. Stinger in the 80s. Other times, White and Turner sound like a stumbling drunk Grant Green jazz session only to rein themselves into a more mellow throb and strum that wouldn’t sound out of place on some forgotten 70s pastoral psych jam. They are the engine that drives this locomotive down its wayward and winding road and really fill in the background with some gorgeous and visceral melodies and brash and brutal stabs of noise that set a grand stage for Warren Ellis to glorify and mangle all that is good and great about the violin.

If Turner and White were responsible for painting the background of the canvas, Warren Ellis’s bold and vivid brushstrokes were splattered all over the foreground as he rightfully claimed the spotlight on both their recorded work and revelatory live performances. I remember seeing them on their first American tour and still remember the magical feeling during the opening strains of “Kim’s Dirt” as I realized within a few minutes that this was going to be one of those performances that forcefully suck you into the immediacy of the moment and are struck by the epiphany that you are witnessing greatness as it occurs. Yeah, Ellis’ drunken banter and rambunctious stage presence got everyone’s attention pretty quickly, but there was something truly romantic and vast about the melodies that emanated from his instrument. It swallowed you whole and conjured memories both ecstatic and romantic as well as troubled and tragic as each swell of sound gathered you in the palm of its hand like an impressionable child. It was a truly moving experience that was full of humor, drama, fuck-ups and true suspense which are incredibly rare qualities in a live or recorded event. Now, it was a bit disappointing when I traveled to see them a second and third time only to see Ellis use the same stories and schtick, but I refused to let it debase the purity of the first time I saw them perform.

Sad and Dangerous fittingly begins with the best moment of the career “Kim’s Dirt”, which is ironically not even written by the band, but by Kim Salmon of the equally brilliant Australian band, the Scientists. It encapsulates everything that is special about the band into a single ten-minute epic. The voyage begins with a deceptively simple and minimal guitar riff that gracefully putters along until Ellis breaks out the waterworks and delivers his best performance as he literally wrings every ounce of emotion out of each pull of the bow. It slowly builds and builds upon this pattern until they ever so gradually pick up the pace to hypnotic trot that continuously threatens to break into a sprint, but never does so in favor of a precarious control over a melody that threatens to topple over at any moment. “Devil in the Hole” is notable because it delves into chaos and clatter as an accompaniment and reveals a side of the band that should’ve been explored again, but rarely ever was. “You Were a Bum Dream” could almost be from the heyday of the 4ad or ECM labels due to its ethereal and ghostly ambiance and kind of foreshadows Ellis’ later career scoring such films as The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James. It is fitting that Sad and Dangerous’ closer is as abstract and difficult as its opening is warm and inviting as “Turk” buries its beauty under a swath of drones and feedback as if the band was not content with attaining beauty, but was interested in its seedy underbelly. I miss this side of the Dirty Three and wish they’d revel in the tatters and shards again for a little while. However, Sad and Dangerous is a reminder of when they were unsure of which way was up and the music was all the more powerful for it.


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Magicistragic Mix Tape #3

January 25, 2012

Magicistragic Mix Tape #3


I haven’t compiled one of these in many a moon, but the tea leaves have gathered in such a way to make it so. Anyhow, the vibe is one of mellow hibernation as the pace never quickens and life remains static as you waste an hour or so listening to whatever has been echoing throughout my domain. Pay special attention to Nathan Abshire who is pictured above since I am kind of dumbfounded by how great his music is lately.

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arthur verocai-cabocia

the woods band-everytime

howard nishioka-incresha

wild nothing-live in dreams

papercuts-once we walked in the sunlight

nathan abshire-pine grove blues

meat puppets-up on the sun

fairport convention-tried so hard

carlos paredes-variaes em r minor

comet gain-you cant hide your love forever

pink floyd-fearless

clive palmer-the girl from the north country

charlie rich-i can’t go on

grateful dead-pride of cucamonga

james gang-there i go again

john villemonte-i am the moonlight

kevin ayers-all this crazy gift of time

monochrome set-inside your heart

the humblebums-mary of the mountain


the hollies-stop right there

leon russell-out in the woods

barefoot jerry-come to me tonight

John Martyn

Bless the Weather(Island 1971)


As I garner more rings around my stump, it becomes more difficult to find myself immersed in those magical moments where you sit dumbfounded by the genius of an album throughout your maiden voyage in its presence. Thankfully, the advent of the internet has unlocked new universes of sounds and genres my teenage mind couldn’t have even imagined when I pined away for unattainable love in my bedroom and idolized Morrissey as if he was the bee’s knees. However, I possess a near photographic memory of the first time I rushed home to my hovel to hear such classics as the Holy Modal Rounders’ Have Moicy, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Fairport Covention’s Unhalfbricking and just oozed and melted into the moment as if it were a landmark in my life imbued with a near ecstatic, religious fervor for what was just imprinted upon my very soul. These moments are rare and magical and I hope they pass before my eyes when I shed this mortal coil.

I discovered John Martyn via an article in the Wire where I was drawn to his quote  “For a while I had the reputation of a real bad boy: this man was going to punch you out, shoot you or fuck you. I deliberately cultivated it, because it kept people away from me. I want people away from me, basically… Obviously one loses one’s innocence as one gets older; it becomes more difficult to speak. But I think innocence really is permanent.” The combination of sensitivity, difficult behavior, self-destructive tendencies and eloquence inspired me to order Bless the Weather from the local record store chain in my podunk college town and thought nothing of it until it arrived weeks later. I was fresh out of college and living in self-imposed poverty as a line cook at the kind of Italian joint where they’d passive aggressively place a handle of whiskey out for the staff after we survived an onslaught of meal tickets as if they wanted to exterminate us like a coven of cockroaches. Who cared? I was passing time until an escape to Savannah, Georgia came to fruition. It was a light-hearted time where friends were plentiful, excess was welcomed and the moment was all that mattered for now. Anyhow, the call eventually came and I walked a crooked mile to retrieve my album and I sat down in a tattered living room littered with pretentious tomes, soiled dishes and mountains of music and placed the cd into the tray as my roommates gathered around this figurative campfire of detritus and the opening strains of John Martyn’s “Go Easy” washed over us and made us feel new again then tossed us onto the rocks below with one of the most haunting, battered sentiments our uncalloused ears had yet heard in our young lives.

Looking at me you never find out what a working man’s about
Raving all night, sleeping away the day
Something to ask
Something to say
Something to keep the pain away
Something I’d like to see if it’s alright.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by.

Spending my time, making it shine, gotta throw away the rest
Look at the ways to vent and amaze my mind
Something I need
Something I plead for
Something I have to say
Something to keep me safe while I’m away.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by.

One way for me, one way for you, one way for all of us
To get back home, do whatever we want to do
Nothing to tell you
Nothing to show
Nothing that you don’t know
Something to play
Something to say for now.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Love, don’t pass me by

It was one of those inconceivable instances where the music matched the unfair expectations I had built up in my mind. “Go Easy” plastered a seemingly endless grin on our faces as we simultaneously basked in the beauty of the song while being rendered dumbstruck by the eloquence of how he painted a tragic, romantic and troubled worldview in a simple song. It was a transcendent prayer to the faceless gods above to allow him enough moments of joy to keep trudging along in a life where he alternated between suffering and inspiration. He hopes for more of the latter while accepting that his personal flaws invited a horde of the former. It’s submissive and defiant all at once which kind of sums up his existence at that moment in his life.

The ironic thing about the gush of hyperbole that precedes this sentence is that the rest of the album fails to match the heights of its life affirming introduction. Don’t get me wrong. Bless the Weather is one of my favorite albums, but is not perfect by any means. However, I would tout this as one of the best half albums ever recorded. It doesn’t hurt that the second song on the album “Bless the Weather” nearly captures the same conflicted sentiments of its predecessor.

Time after time I held it just to watch it die
Line after line I loved it just to watch it cry
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you home
Wave after wave I washed it just to watch it turn
Day after day I cooled it just to watch it burn
Pain after pain I stood it just to see how it feels
Rain after rain I stood it just to make it real
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the day you go away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away

It’s yet another ode to embracing the warm glow of love and a wallowing in the inevitable decay of it due to his own failings and flaws. Martyn was never quite so proud and powerful, yet so frail and pummeled by life as on this album and these two tracks are so alive, yet injured and torn that they break your heart while inspiring you because he comes across as a prizefighter who never goes down in sheer spite of those who jab at his soul.

There are other highlights like “Just Now” which champions transience as a way of life where friends shift and shuffle like a deck of cards and happiness is a state of mind if you can just get your mind right amidst the distractions of life. Judging from its title “Let the Good Things Come” should be joyous, but Martyn delivers a meditation on the paths taken and those ignored and wishes his trajectory could have been steeper and his valleys not so deep. “Head and Heart” is an acceptance of his imperfections and a ballad devoted to anyone who will embrace him as he is. It is a devotion to a love that is logical, yet elemental and passionate. I’ve found it in my life and pray he had as well during the course of his life. Hell, I even love his take on “Singing in the Rain”, but there are a few missteps that relegate it to the middle ground of most John Martyn fans, but its highs outweigh its lows by such a large margin. Ultimately, Bless the Weather is just as flawed and inspirational as the man who recorded it.

The Delgados-Hate

January 18, 2012

The Delgados

Hate (Mantra 2002)


The Delgados kind of flew under the radar of most folks during their heyday. It’s a shame because they continuously progressed and evolved during their eight-year career into something truly special. Not only did they start their own influential record label, Chemikal Underground, which spawned the careers of Mogwai and Arab Strap, but they quietly released some of the most gorgeously bruised and bittersweet albums of the era. Between Peloton, The Great Eastern and Hate, this Scottish band recorded a trio of albums that will hopefully get the attention they deserve someday. The band was blessed with a knack for well-written odes to disappointment and despair and the tandem of vocalists Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock allowed the band to alternate between her stately and elegant singing and his more resigned and beaten tones. Ironically, as their music grew more orchestrated and gorgeous, their subject material and instrumental palette consisted solely of shades of grey. No one wins in these songs. No one finds true love. Everyone just drinks a bit too much and fixates on their flaws while pointing out the imperfections of others and how they let them down over and over again.

Hate sounds like a swan song and it probably should’ve been considering its followup Universal Audio was a shadow of what came before. There is nothing cheeky or ironic about the album title because it kind of sums up the tone of the lyrics and weary, late-night ambiance of a prickly album about the failings of the world and those who live on its accursed surface. It’s kind of odd that they aligned themselves with producer Dave Fridmann who is most famous for crafting kaleidoscopic orchestrations that are more style than substance. Best known for his work with Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and MGMT, his work tends to be gorgeous at first glance, but as satisfying as an aesthetically pleasing confection that leaves you wanting soon after. However, his work on Hate and its predecessor The Great Eastern brings the band out of its cantankerous shell and coaxes plenty of bombast and drama to accompany the band’s predilection for delicate and dour slices of life.

Hate is as bleak as its namesake. Here you’ll find explorations of a man’s last moments before he takes his life, the embrace of the last halcyon moments before the end of a relationship and a plea for all to accept the fact that everyone’s heart harbors hateful intentions. All of this vitriol and self-loathing is couched in lush arrangements and laced with catchy choruses to mask its true intent, but this album is misanthropic to its core and all the better for it. It is a brutally honest exploration of what lurks behind our smiles and exposes the grim motivations behind our weaker moments. Hate is a walking contradiction that marries the most resplendent and ostentatious arrangements married to the most calamitous and desolate worldview and this conflict is the the source of its staying power and gravitas.


Fast Stories…From Kid Coma(Capitol/Sub Pop 1995)


Fast Stories…From Kid Coma is an unheralded gem that was discarded and quickly forgotten amidst the rush to sign the next big thing in the wake of Nirvana’s success, Truly had the pedigree to get the attention of a major label since its members included Hiro Yamamoto of Soundgarden and Mark Pickerel of Screaming Trees, but their predilection for drugged, proggy riffs and dissonant ballads that drag on for twelve minutes disqualified them from the winner’s circle. I never dug the aforementioned bands that much, so it’s kind of surprising that I always keep coming back to this album years later since Truly kind of reminds me of a laid-back stoner version of Soundgarden minus the embarrassing emoting, Robert Plant-esque wails and eagerness to pen a hit. The wildcard in this equation is singer and guitarist Robert Roth whose lazy, deadpan drawl fits the nihilistic, doomed vibe of this concept album about god knows what. In addition, his guitar playing alternates between gorgeous metallic smears of feedback and majestic psychedelic riffing that is simultaneously elegant and damaged all at once.

Another thing that set Truly apart from its peers was its unrelentingly bleak instrumentation and lyrics. There isn’t an upbeat note or verse to be found here. It’s an album designed for those looking to wallow in misery. At times, it even flirts with an oppressive arena rock take on goth ala the Cure’s Disintegration on the slower numbers, albeit with more testosterone and a passion for 70s metal and hard rock. What makes Kid Coma appealing is the fact that it is such a stylistic mess as “Blue Flame Ford” somehow tosses My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Nirvana and some hoary classic rock riffs against the wall and it somehow achieves excellence. I’m not saying that the song is brilliant, but the juxtaposition of strange bedfellows works in mysterious ways here. However, the highlights of the album are the long, drawn out melancholy numbers where the band stretches out their legs and lets Roth slowly build an anthem from narcoleptic beginnings to ecstatic peaks and back again to mellower valleys. The duo of “Angelhead” and “Chlorine” last a grand total of twenty minutes, but squash all that I love about 90s alt-rock into twin ballads that whisk me back to stoned nights in my dorm room with an ill-suited hairdo and even worse fashion sense. I understand if Kid Coma disappoints you tremendously since it’s got its share of underwhelming moments to match its impeccable pinnacles, but the gentle, insistent tug of nostalgia gives it a glow that keeps me coming back more than I care to mention.


January 7, 2012


Pebbles (Soft Abuse 2007)


New Zealand is such an unlikely place to spawn such an eclectic assemblage of post-punk pioneers, guitar abusers and folks with an innate knack for melancholy, chiming indie-pop masterpieces. However, I guess that the age of the internet has taught us dullards that the musical universe never revolved around the United States and England and that every nation harbored a cabal of unheralded geniuses, eccentric weirdos and impeccable tunesmiths. Most of us were just ignorant to its existence due to a lack of distribution or a fixation upon the effortlessly familiar. New Zealand was an exception to this rule since many of its flagship acts like the Clean, Chills, the Bats, Cakekitchen and Tall Dwarfs signed distribution deals with North American labels during the 80s. Therefore, folks took notice and dug deeper into its furrows to find that there was more than rainy-day reveries up its collective sleeve.

Although I adore the aforementioned bands in a particularly unhealthy way, there was something about the more damaged sounds of 80s and 90s New Zealand that resonated with me in a way that still moves me in a kind of transcendent way. Folks like Peter Jefferies and  Alastair Galbraith and and bands like This Kind of Punishment, Dadamah, Dead C, Gate, Plagal Grind and the Terminals mined a dark, brooding space peppered with fragile ballads that literally seemed to walk on eggshells as they teetered between nihilism and a skewed sense of melody. Most of these bands found a safe haven on the Xpressway label and forged a totally idiosyncratic sound unlike anything else I’ve heard since its collapse. I had given up the ghost long ago and surrendered to the fact that no one would resuscitate its vibe until I heard Pumice, a one man operation led by Stefan Neville.

To be honest, I think this album is probably better than anything ever released on Xpressway and that folks will revisit it years from now and finally give it its due. By no means is it an easy listen. Its seams and flaws are  fully on display and it only grips the listener after many late night strolls with it as your sole companion.  Pebbles is a schizophrenic listen that teases you with ecstatic riffs and a joyous spirit in the first two minutes only to drag you down into “Bold/Old”, a fragile meditation on the woes of life set to a woozy background of hazy, psychedelic guitar meanderings, distant piano plunkings, and the buzz of gentle hiss. You can’t understand a lick of what he mumbles, but it somehow reminds you of moments when life felt like a perpetual string of potholes until he lets loose a triumphant warbling that reminds you that smoother sailing awaits even the most troubled souls. There is such beauty amidst the gentle feedback, drones and deceptively ramshackle arrangements. “Spike/Spear” goes on for eleven minutes, but its droning, moaning and surging peaks coalesce into a true centerpiece for the album. It’s like a palate cleanser that wipes the slate clean with a long pause where you can empty your mind and get lost in the swirl of sound before embarking on a second half that is much harsher than the first. We get a short respite before he tears into “The Only Doosh Worth Giving”which conjures the spectre of the Clean’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” with a more punky, nihilistic streak. It shreds in a way alien to this planet. The rest is either haunting, sparse and mood destroying or swells and peaks of noise that are best suited for headphones and a grand tolerance for volume. Pebbles ain’t for everyone, but it sure feels like it speaks to me each and every time it flops onto my turntable.

Greetings to all who stumble upon this wayward blog. In the spirit of actually bringing this ramshackle collection of ramblings into a new dimension, I have started a facebook group devoted to this blog. If you are interested in more frequent updates and my meanderings through the world of youtube and shorter pieces about what floats my boat, go on the facebook and make friends with the magicistragic at your convenience.

Andrew Hill

Lift Every Voice (Blue Note 1969)


It’s a damn shame that Andrew Hill has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to the jazz canon. His brilliance has been overshadowed amidst an era festooned with Mingus, dual Coltranes, Miles Davis, Monk and other jazz pioneers who traveled to the edges of their art in a psychedelic age. Lift Every Voice even gets forgotten as a mere curio in his own discography in favor of earlier works like Black Fire and Point of Departure. Admittedly, those are some of my favorite Blue Note albums of the 60s, but Lift Every Voice is a unique statement of purpose from a man interested in reconciling the seeming disparate worlds of vocal choir, jazz, gospel, soul and the avant-garde. It’s alternately in love with a nostalgia for the music that formed the foundation for his love of music and an obsession with pushing the boundaries of what could be possible within the confines of jazz. It’s refreshingly cozy and familiar, yet proud of the jagged edges that develop over the course of the band’s performances.

I could bask for a long while in the interplay between Hill’s emotive piano playing and the harmonies of the nine-person choir that switches from a banshee wail to a gorgeous and mellow intersection of voice that simply floors me. Lift Every Voice also gains its primordial power from the fact that it was recorded over the course of two sessions with different backing bands. Normally, this would lead to an incongruous union, but one session was led by Lee Morgan while the other was spearheaded by Woody Shaw. Morgan was dealing with addiction at the time which may explain why his trumpet playing has a such a weary, melancholy tone. Sadly, he was murdered onstage by his common-law wife a few years later at the literal nadir of his criminally short existence on this planet. On the other hand, Shaw is all fire, piss and vinegar as he attacks each trumpet solo as if he wanted to blast each song to the moon. It doesn’t hurt that a triumvirate of Miles Davis’ fusion era lineup of Ron Carter, Bernie Maupin and Carlos Garnett have their hands in the cookie jar here too.

Don’t go looking for a reinvention of the wheel here. There is no psychedelic jazz fusion chops to be found in this 1969 session. It is simultaneously square in its love of tradition and adventurous in the ways the band tweaks the building blocks that led them all to this point in time. Lift Every Voice is grand in scope and paints a vast panorama as Hill proves once and for all that he was a stone cold genius at orchestrating eclectic strands and synthesizing it into something entirely unlike anything else of its time. It’s the kind of album one can dive into and spend hours appreciating every little nuance, twist and turn because it is so dense and complex, yet loose, simple, flowing and free. Yes, that is a bit of an oxymoron, but so is this album that lovingly engages the ghosts of its past and gazes into the crystal ball of what could have been