Dirty Three

Sad and Dangerous(Poon Village 1995)

http://www.mediafire.com/?1ymnoimyyjd

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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Iran-The Moon Boys

August 25, 2009

Iran

The Moon Boys(Tumult 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?xfzgntxay4m

I was sorely disappointed by Iran’s latest album, Dissolver, because it stripped away all of the scuzz and feedback that mated so perfectly with their wayward way with a simple melody. Yeah, its “progression” probably had a lot to do with the addition of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone to the band, but their newfound clarity always aims for the bullseye where Aaron Aite used to revel in mistakes and missteps. By no means is Dissolver a bad album, but count me in the minority who find Aites’ embrace of chaos more appealing than his attempts at an orderly pop song. Then again, six years have passed since The Moon Boys was released and god knows that time has a funny way of adjusting the way you view the world. Therefore, let us take a few moments to pay tribute to an album that may be one of the best albums Siltbreeze, Xpressway, Shrimper or Catsup Plate never released. Yes, these are obscure benchmarks, but it was rare that any of these labels released a perfect marriage of noise to pop even though I wanted so hard to believe that it was so. Yes, the Dead C, V-3, Yips, Amps for Christ and other disparate souls have come damn close to this holy union, but I always reach for this album over anything in their discographies.

The synthesis of noise and pop is hardly an underground concept. God knows that the Jesus & Mary Chain made some moolah with their own jigsaw of Phil Spector and white noise and the whole shoegaze scene was based upon sensual coos and a lusher brand of feedback and squall, but The Moon Boys stands out because there is a sprawl to their compositions that seems epic comparison to the aforementioned bands’ succinct slices of sweet and sour. Sonic Youth’s “Hyperstation” from their Daydream Nation seems like the most accurate touchstone for Iran’s music circa The Moon Boys. I remember listening to “Hyperstation” at 3am as a teenager and imagining if there was another band that could conjure the same loose, late-night vibe where a psych-pop song sounds as if it was heard via a faraway AM station many states away from your destination. This album does that for me throughout its entirety. Then again, I am a former insomniac who used to listen to the scratchiest transmissions instead of counting sleep or drinking warm milk, so my bias is evident.

The imperfections are what make The Moon Boys so gripping. Don’t be fooled that melodies worthy of Brian Wilson lurk beneath the muck because these tunes tend to stretch out in sometimes difficult directions. What does stick out is Aaron Aites’ guitar work as he somehow straddles the line between outright sabotage and grubby melody. No song really even stands out here as the overall effect of it as an album is what gets me every single time. I approach it as a long rambling epic where slow, atonal riffs last for days only to be replaced by some of the most simple and sweet notes that shake all of the pieces back into proper balance. Iran always stride close to the edge only to reconfigure themselves as something so sentimental and tender that you almost forget you were listening to a staccato riff seconds before. The Moon Boys is admittedly a bit of a mess, but I hear something new each time I try to reassemble the pieces.

Ego Summit

The Room Isn’t Big Enough(Old Age No Age 1997)

http://www.mediafire.com/?h3dy2gmpjde

Many of my formative years were spent in a sleepy college town near Pittsburgh. It was during this time that my older and wiser friends instilled a deep love for the musics of both Pittsburgh and its close neighbor, the state of Ohio. It was a hard sell to a young man who used to look to Melody Maker and the NME for musical discoveries, but it wasn’t long before they had me thinking that the Bassholes, Speaking Canaries, Guided by Voices, V-3, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Don Caballero, Karl Hendricks Trio, etc. were the bee’s knees and that my prior loves were a bunch of flimsy powder puffs. To be honest, there was a grit and ramshackle charm to all of the aforementioned bands that opened my ears to musics far less polished than my dainty ears were accustomed. I guess one could make the argument that other midwestern cities harbored bands who excelled in the art of the artless, unpretentious pop genius, albeit in a mangled form. It may be a broad and possibly offensive generalization, but the similarities are not surprising since these musicians were probably bored by the same things, listened to to similar records and rounded up fellow weirdos to pass the time making music. I rarely, if ever hear modern music that sounds like anything from this era because its best bands were products of a certain time and place that is hard to imitate or improve upon.

Despite my gushing like a Twilight fan, I am far from an expert on the backroads of both locales. Therefore, It took me more than ten years to discover what may be the best American rock albums of the 90s. Man, even I think I am being a bit hyperbolic as I type those words, but I have listened to this record dozens of times in the past year and it is such a bitter, misanthropic listen that it kind of sticks to you like tar after a few listens. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of really vulnerable man feelings being expressed here. A lot of material deals with fucked protagonists trying to make sense of love, disappointment and their direction in life, but maybe that is because Jim Shepherd of V-3 is involved. That man always knew how to make the ugliest sentiments somehow sound uplifting in a damaged way that made you wonder if you related a bit too much to his worldview. 

Now, what in the hell does Ego Summit have to do with Pittsburgh? Well, absolutely nothing, but I’m always looking for a way to piggyback my own backstory into these piddling reviews. However, Ego Summit were as close to a supergroup that Ohio could muster in the mid 90s. I am biased in this praise since Don Howland(Bassholes), Jim Shephard(V-3) and Ron House(Great Plains, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apts) were three of my favorite songwriters at various points in my life. They were joined by fellow stalwarts Mike Rep and Tommy Jay and their one and only album, The Room Isn’t Big Enough, somehow accommodates their divergent styles and tastes into something that is cohesive despite sounding as if the wheels may pop off at any moment. 

The opener “Beyond the Laws” epitomizes why I love this album so. The opening riff is one part Stones boogie, one part extended psychedelic jam before Ron House goes off about some nihilistic vision quest where he is going to go beyond the laws of man and hope that someone reels him back in before he goes too far. If that wasn’t morbid enough, Jim Shepard’s “Illogical” follows it up with a confused anthem that kind of breaks my heart despite its anthemic qualities. It is ultimately about a man who finds the entire world around him to be illogical and all too easy to throw away. It is even sadder when put in context of his suicide in 1999. The rest of The Room Isn’t Big Enough lets in little sunlight as subsequent tracks champion the numbing of all feelings and emotion, the futile nature of domesticity and loathing of the American dream. These are sincere expressions of disillusionment with life, country and lasting relationships with all women. The malaise and deep dissatisfaction with life in a decaying city located in a fucked up country permeates each song and it kind of drags you down into the mire. When listening to Ego Summit, I guess you either thank your lucky stars that life hasn’t crushed you in such a manner or embrace their misanthropic musings as gospel from those who got stepped on just like you.

Strapping Fieldhands-Discus

September 8, 2008

Strapping Fieldhands

Discus LP (Omphalos 1994)

http://www.mediafire.com/?15lq59s4muc

There is something magical and special about this album and its place and time in my life. If you haven’t picked up my very unsubtle and non-existent hints, I grew up in Philadelphia and had the pleasure of spending much of my youth shopping at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, which is still manned by members of the Strapping Fieldhands. Now this is totally irrelevant to both mine and your enjoyment of this somewhat forgotten gem, but this store shaped much of my musical taste and served as an inspiration, source of advice and a place where I was mocked for buying a Steely Dan box set. Anyhow, it was a place to meander and get turned onto to the Majora and Siltbreeze labels while tempering my love of bad indie-rock with some hoary old psych chestnuts. In short, 3rd Street Jazz and Rock and Record Exchange sated my music addiction with proteins and monounsaturated fats instead of the empty calories to be found in the competing genres which could’ve stolen my attention. God, this was meant to be a simple salute and now it some meandering dedication, but thank you fellows.

Let us get back to the music.  After a couple singles on Siltbreeze, the band recorded their debut, which remains sadly out of print and unavailable to those that may latch onto their ramshackle love of loner psych, skiffle, untuned balladry and perfectly concocted pop melodies played off the cuff. I may be totally wrong, but Discus always seemed like a bunch of music aficionados tapping into the best of Peter Hamill, Incredible String Band, Lonnie Donegan and early Holy Modal Rounders in the context of what Guided By Voices were doing in the early 90s.

Until the day I die, I will always be sucker for the opening track “Boo Hoo Hoo” which says little beyond the chorus and invitations to engage in carnal passions in a Scottish glade. It is so simple, but a perfectly imperfect ditty about an illicit weekend rendezvous and the consequences with a lazy regard for the consequences. Almost three minutes into the track, there is a such a sloppy, but uplifting guitar riff that always plasters a grin on my face.

I could never figure out all of the lyrics to “When I Came” but it always engendered these melancholy feelings due to the ramshackle rise and fall of the instrumentation mixed with the endlessly hopeful chorus. It seemed like a feel good song strangled by an inability to decide which mood to embrace.

Polished isn’t a term I would use for any Strapping Fieldhands album or single, but there is something about the smudges and smears that endeared Discus to me. There is a sad heart that beats beneath the sloppiness, myriad of influences and happy-go-lucky exterior that kind of grabbed me and never let go years later.

I’m guessing this was a fundraising item during WFMU’s pledge drive in 2004. Compiled by John Allen, it collects a veritable who’s who of indie rock circa 1989. However, most of this compilation veers towards the punk end of the spectrum. It is great to hear some old favorites and get the chance to listen to some great songs that never made it onto their respective albums. It does an excellent job of summing of the the cream of the crop. It is even more impressive due to the fact that it focuses on a single year and catches many of these bands in their prime. I haven’t heard some of these songs in over a decade it brings back memories of bands that lost me with later efforts, but this comp is forcing me to reevaluate some of my opinions. Extra points for emulating the design and approach of Chuck Warner’s Messthetics comps that have lovingly collected forgotten punk and new wave gems.

Various Artists

Killed by Murder Volume One

http://www.divshare.com/download/5271141-fff

tracklist

16 Tons-Lauren(No Blow)

Action Swingers-Kicked in the head(Noiseville)

Bricks-Girl with the Carrot Skin(merge)

Dead Moon-Black september (Tombstone)

Death of Samantha-Rosenberg Summer (Homestead)

Die Kreuzen-Gone Away (Touch and Go)

Drunks With Guns-Drug Problem (Noiseville)

Dwarves-Drug Store (Sub Pop)

Gibson Brothers-Emusified (Siltbreeze)

Go Team-Ribeye (K)

Halo of Flies-There Aint No Hell (Amrep)

HP Zinker-The Know it All(Matador)

Ickey Joey-Ill Love You There (C/Z)

Jesus Lizard-Chrome (Touch and Go)

Lee Harvey Oswald Band-Ligtning Strikes (Touch and Go)

Lonely Moans-Rockinerd (amrep)

Love Child-Know its Alright (Sympathy)

Melvins-Anal Satan (Sympathy)

Monster Magnet-Lizard Johnny (Circuit)

Mudhoney-Hate the police (Subpop)

Seaweed-Inside (Leopard gecko)

Surgery-Not Going Down(Amrep)

Tar-Same (Amrep)

Treepeople-Important Things(Silence)

Unsane-This Town (Treehouse)

Vomit launch-Every Pretty Girl (teenbeat)

Tower Recordings

Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles (Siltbreeze 1997)

http://www.mediafire.com/?dynilt0y3xn

Back when I was a hack for Alternative Press, I had the opportunity to interview Matt Valentine of Tower Recordings and he kept speaking about communal living and a shared lifestyle. I think Spanish Wolfman was listening on the party line. My dumbass thought he was referring to the fact they were a bunch of hippie swingers, but age has taught me that he referring to something more wholesome than my fractured imagination.  I asked to interview them since their Fraternity of Moonwalkers album blew my boo-boo loose with its lo-fi take on English psych and folk. I didn’t know my Comus from my asshole, so it all sounded so strange and otherworldly to me. You know, it still does. I guess youth and age agree on this one occasion. However, I did eventually visit Port Chester, NY where they lived at the time and didn’t see a single commune, just bodegas and urban blight.

Let me get this out of the way before I discuss the album. Their cover of Os Mutantes’ “Q Delmak-O” is on the short list of songs I want to hear on my deathbed. I always loved the original, but Helen Rush makes it even more delicate and airy while the sparse intrumentation makes it even more stunning in its simplicity.

Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles is the best of the Tower Recordings albums. In fact, it is the best thing that any of these musicians have ever recorded. I like MV and EE as well as the Pg six albums, but they lack the cohesion of this one. All that was great about the band is on display here. At times, it sort of reminds me of what the Espers are doing today. However, their take on English troubadours is more troubled and woozy. These are simple, sincere folk songs, but their take on them is just so goddamn fried that it makes you wonder why this one never gets mentioned anymore. Listening to it now, it sounds positively pagan and could’ve been added to the Wicker Man soundtrack. If you thought of Nicholas Cage, please allow me to think badly of you.  However, the sight of him in that bear suit cracks my shit up.

I know it seems as if everyone with a Cd burner and steady access to weed sounds like this nowadays, but Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles is special and inhabits its own little universe. It is the happy meeting place where Takoma, Joe Boyd, Clive Palmer and Siltbreeze happily coexist for your listening pleasure. Helen Rush, why won’t you sing again? You are missed.