Dog Faced Hermans

Hum of Life (Konkurrel/Project A-Bomb 1993)

The embittered old codger in me whines that they just don’t make ’em like this anymore, but the realist in me wholeheartedly believes that the Dog Faced Hermans can never be properly copied or borrowed from in any meaningful way. Although they bore some resemblance to the agitated political punk of the Ex, the band’s scope peered far beyond any stylistic ghetto or singular influence. You were likely to hear strains of improv, 8 Eyed Spy and Ornette Coleman covers, feminist manifestos, wry commentary and rollicking trumpet blasts amidst a more familiar punk framework. Sure, lots of bands have deftly incorporated oodles of tasteful influences into their homebrew, but there was a passion, intelligence and political activism to their music that was alternately raucous, yet thoughtful.

Hum of Life is sadly out of print. It’s a shame that their wonderful, but inferior album on Alternative Tentacles is the only recording that is readily available. Hum of Life is their masterpiece since it encompasses all that I love about this band. I swear some of this reminds me of some bastard child of Klezmer, gypsy music and the Gang of Four/The Ex. Catchy anthems suddenly explode into free-jazz interludes only to see vocalist/trumpeter Marion Coutts take the reins and lead the band into some bizarro surf guitar riffs. I don’t know if I have heard such a stylistic hodgepodge ever sound so cohesive and unique. By all means. their high hopes should result in failure, but every spoken word section, spastic interlude and tender soliloquy reminds me why I obsess over albums that are so utterly transcendent.

There are two songs in particular that excite and haunt me 16 years after I first heard them. The first is “Jan 9” which is an almost sci-fi punk song about the dangers of creationism and fundamentalism as it details a society where science has been subverted by the government in order to establish a society where inquiry is sinful. I always loved the opening lines which describe a world where science is like a fly with its wings cut and left to wander the floor with the rest of us peons.

Jan 9 in future time/the day science clipped its wings/nobody flew/we all stood around/shaking hands on the ground/congratulating ourselves/we could only see the soles of their feet/we thought there were angels up ahead

“Hook and the Wire” is the other masterpiece as it attacks the pro-life movement and paints a picture of a patriarchal society where men carelessly impregnate women and send them off to deal with the hook and the wire. It details a society where abortion is no longer an option and sexual partners coldly banish their love to an alleyway to deal with it themselves. It is a somewhat ironic tale of a world where misogyny and the far right have overtaken our lives and males and enforce self-mutilation is an acceptable solution to a pregnancy. The sad part about both of these tunes is that they don’t seem too far-fetched these days.

Although Mississippi Records reissued a vinyl edition of their first album, the rest deserve your love and attention so some stalwart label can expose more folks to the beauty of their catalogue.

Various Artists(Compiled by David Toop)

Ocean of Sound (Virgin UK 1996)

links are down, but will be reposted tomorrow.

Although it sometimes spends too much time sniffing its own arse, The Wire, a British magazine, has helped turn me on to new horizons during the thirteen years I have read its pontifications. Yes, I could do without its testimonials to grime and its ill-fated interludes with post-rock, but no current magazine delves into the nitty gritty of oddball musics like they do. Although he doesn’t seem to write for them anymore, David Toop’s meanderings on music warped my mind in new directions. To be honest, I read them now and find less to love, but his articles and book Ocean of Sound provided the context for why I found whirrs, buzzes and drones to be such a wonderland. In 1996, Toop wrote a book entitled Ocean of Sound which attempted to trace the history of ambient music as well as the motivations behind those who devoted themselves to its creation. He touched on Satie, Terry Riley, Eno and Aphex Twin and how supposed background music became an artform. I still kind of dig this book, but years have hardened me and I no longer have the same bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look as I read the words. However, this book really gave my musical loves a sense of place. It connected dots and made sense of things that my young mind didn’t grasp until then.

A double cd was released in conjunction with book and I’ll be damned if there isn’t a better compendium of music to correlate with the book’s explorations of the ability of music to create an atmosphere. Now the book and compilation do not limit themselves to mellow bubbles and chirps since Peter Brotzmann and Ornette Coleman play a role as well as My Bloody Valentine and Jon Hassell. I love the diversity of this collection because its field recordings of howler monkeys and rain songs just melt into the more austere terrain of Harold Budd. At heart, it is just an excellent mix tape devoted to the power of sound by a man who put all of his love into each selection.

Joe McPhee

Nation Time (CJR 1971, reissued by Atavistic in 2002)

I’ve heard the terms “free-jazz” and “fire music” before, but these were merely words used to describe noisy jazz records I liked until purchasing a reissue of Joe McPhee’s Nation Time. This sounds like yet another slice of hyperbole littering this website, but this music awoke something inside me each time it played. It stood apart from Ornette, John and Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp and others whose improvisations altered my musical worldview. These guys and gals showed me that enjoyment can be found in chaos, but none of them married it to such relentlessly funky and aggressive rhythms. This music was free and fierce, but strangely accessible and endlessly listenable. I started searching for something similar, but haven’t found it yet, but Luther Jackson’s Funky Donkey came damn close.

Nation Time is drawn from a 1970 live set and consists of three compositions. I always found the title track to be the centerpiece of this set. It’s strength lies in how McPhee and his band straddle melody and mayhem. However, recent listens have led me to realize that it’s follow-up “Shakey Jake” is just as mind blowing with its synthesis of free-jazz, James Brown and Funkadelic. Everyone is blowing and beating their hearts out simultaneously Chaos gives way to collaboration and it transforms into something special that was only attempted by Ronald Shannon Jackson during the 80s. However, It’s the only time that I’ve heard McPhee explore this facet of his music. I love most phases of McPhee’s career, but Nation Time and 1971’s Trinity hit heights unmatched by any jazz artist of those two years.

Double U and Glands of External Secretion

s/t (VHF 2000)

Disc One (Double U):

Disc Two (Glands of External Secretion):

I feel that this album has been criminally ignored for too long. It’s not one of my favorite things in the universe, but there is something undeniably alien and innovative going on here. Within these creepy-crawly rhythms, growled and mumbled mutterings and eccentric melodies are moments of beauty, albeit in mutant form. There are 2cds to this shindig. The first is a “proper” album by Portland’s Double U and the other includes a “demix” of the source material by Glands of External Secretion, a duo consisting of indie-pop genius Barbara Manning and Bananafish founder Seymour Glass.

The Double U consists of Matt Hall and Alex Behr and they had released their debut Absurd Fjord on the Communion label a couple years earlier. I believe this is their second album and it is probably their best work although the “demix” side is less inspiring. At times they sound like a more restrained Caroliner, but their biggest influences seem to be 70s era Residents and prog with a bit of Zappa and Morricone thrown into the blender. They even dismantle Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and do a moody interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sick Doll” Both bear little relation to their birthplace, but both are reimagined in all their moody glory. Don’t be turned off by all of the fancy pants references, this is a soothing, indie-pop album at heart, but there is madness at work in the background. In fact, they would make good bedfellows with Bugskull, a similarly stoned mess from the same era.

The second cd is a “demix” and it is interesting, but it amps up the insanity in a subtle way. Less song-oriented and more of a meandering mess than its partner, the Glands’ take on Double U is more experimental and fucked up, but lacks the gruff charms of the original model.