Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Fuck it, I'm just gonna start writing about music here.

About a year and a half ago, I started trying to re-listen to my entire CD collection in alphabetical/chronological order (approx 1000 discs, more or less?). I did this almost exclusively in my relatively limited commute/drivetime, probably 40 minutes per weekday total. It's taken me 18 months to get into the "D" section, although obviously working from home since March 23rd put that on hold. Now I'm starting to get back into it and I'm 7 discs deep into the 35 Miles Davis discs that I possess, most as part of box sets. Kind Of Blue has never sounded better, RIP Jimmy Cobb.

I started writing capsule reviews of the records as I Iistened to them, but got behind during the "B" section and never caught up. I figure now is as good a time as any to start up again, but hell if I'm gonna post my content here. So I've impressed my ancient MP3 blog into revived service for music musings, and will post review updates as I write them. Right now I have most of everything through the Boredoms section :)
Here ya go:
17 Pygmies - Missyfish/Hatikva
I found this used somewhere in the 90s. It was hard to find their debut EP at the time, and I loved their first three records (pretty sure it was a review in long lost Charlottesville magazine Live Squid that turned me on to the band). This pairs their solid (not stellar) 1st EP with a much weaker 4th LP that I think is actually unfinished demos. Stick with the EP (but really what you need is their 1st LP Jedda By The Sea, an unjustly neglected tour de force of faux-ethnic 80s indie shimmer).

23 Skidoo - The Culling Is Coming
Their weirdest, noisiest recording on side 1 (live at some festival) with faux-gamelan on the flip. This CD comes with a brutal bonus track that’s an aggressive tape loop workout, also live I think. Pretty cool to re-listen after many years. This was the hardest one to find back in the day on LP, I only saw it once in a friend’s collection.

23 Skidoo - The Gospel Comes To New Guinea
Frustratingly incomplete but still a great overview of their first few years. This has all of the 1st 12”, the Seven Songs mini LP, and selections from other releases of the era. Seven Songs in particular is an imaginative high point, an enticing fusion of tribal/ethnic and industrial, plus the occasional flash of pop song brilliance.

801 - Live
This CD is essential if you’re a Eno fanatic (raises hand), since it adds several killer live versions of Eno tunes that aren’t on the original LP (which is widely beloved among Eno heads, with good reason). It’s so great to hear these tunes done with a sympathetic live band that gives them a different vibe compared to the studio-hotshot LP versions.

Aeolian String Ensemble - Lassithi/Elysium
One of the best, most listenable ambient albums I own, its bottomless depths continually reveal new nuances. No recognizable instrumentation or melody, just a cavernous drone. Pretty special and unique, props to Christoph Heemann for putting this out.

Afflicted Man - Get Stoned Ezy
Somewhere there’s a good Byron Coley piece on this album, the last of three I think? These came out of nowhere in the early 80s and exist unmoored from any specific time/place in terms of sound, but when I gave this a spin lately I was reminded of the longer, dumber, wankier Bevis Frond tracks (which means totally great, obviously) as the dude here grinds out spectacularly stupid endless solos over a basic bass/drum chug. Like a power trio got hit in the head with a hammer, in the best possible way.

African Head Charge - Songs Of Praise
Their most song-oriented release to my ears, and probably my favorite – I have the rest of their early run on vinyl. I’m a total sucker for Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound label, if you can hang with reggae/roots/dub at all then you’d probably dig this. Sherwood keeps his weird production touches to a minimum here, letting the band and songs really shine on their own. It still SOUNDS great, though.

Ain Soph – Kshatriya
So are these guys fascists? I hope not, I like this record. I used to have an OG that I found used and cheap in the pre-internet days, long since sold on eBay for a profit. This gets somewhat repetitive after a while, but it is still a convincing document of that good old “ritualistic industrial” sound that I pretty much lived on in the 80s.

Allman Brothers – Fillmore Sessions
This is quite simply some of the best dual-guitar music of the rock era, it’s nice to have the complete recordings on a 2CD set with the entire ‘Mountain Jam” and a couple of bonus tracks. RIP Duane, damn you were good.

Alternative TV - Live 1978
The two different versions of “Fellow Sufferer” here are a great snapshot of the band in transition from the punky debut album to the weirdo avant 2nd LP. This CD isn’t essential, but it’s probably my #4 release of theirs behind the first three albums.

Alternative TV - My Life As A Child Star
This kind of sucked and went into the sell pile, uninspiring songs & execution. Turned it off after a few tracks. They shoulda stopped after Strange Kicks.

Alvarius B - 1st
I had all of his records up to the new 3LP set on vinyl, but I stopped being a completist at some point (and have now sold some) cuz the guy is just such a dick sometimes and also that Chin Spirits 10” was really bad. In character, sure, but a little goes a long way. This debut was reissued on CD with extra tracks so of course I had to have it. Spiky, gnarled, percussive guitar instrumental tracks. Lots of them.

Alvarius B - 2nd
Reissued with SIX bonus tracks. Unlike the first all-instrumental LP, this is nothing but real songs. A limited sonic palette, just him and his guitar, but the songs here are some of my favorites ever (not hyperbole). Savage, funny, scary, disturbing, evocative works of genius. Just go listen to “Cooking With Satan” and thank me later.

Alvarius B – With A Beaker In The Burner…
The new one. Double CD or triple LP, I went with the CD. There’s some great songs here but it’s uneven, and some of the lyrics are uncharacteristically underwritten. I get the feeling some of this was cranked out as padding. I’ll keep it for the spooky swirly misanthropy of “Suitcase Handler” and a few other tracks but I don’t see me re-listening to this in the near future.

AMM – Newfoundland
A towering work of genius, my favorite of theirs that I own ( I do wish I had more of the 90’s Matchless CDs). Subtle, telepathic free improvisation, from a whisper to a roar.

Amon Duul – Airs On A Shoestring
“best of” LP from this much-maligned UK offshoot of the original Amon Duul II, this stuff holds up pretty well in the long run, some shimmering pretty drone stuff, tribal freakouts, and the classic epic “Marcus Leid”, memorably covered by Barbara Manning in recent years – she knows a good tune when she hears one.

Amon Duul – Paradieswarts Duul
A total classic, one of the best things from either version of the band, up there with Yeti and Psychedelic Underground. Much more hippie/psych oriented, and the sound is just so blissful. Get the Captain Trip reissue CD so you get the two 7” bonus tracks. Fantastic.

Amon Duul II – first six
Phallus Dei (#1) sounds a bit lumbering and heavy these days, kind of weighed down by rock moves and not as unhinged & glorious as their twin band’s contemporary output. Yeti (#2) is still a total classic and one of the best Krautrock albums ever made. I was particularly struck by the long jams on sides 3 & 4 this time around. Tanz Der Lemminge (#3) is WAY better than I thought before, I thought it was unfocused, but man I was blown away this time through and even re-listened! Primo Krautrock, again, with wild proggy overtones in a bunch of places. Wolf City (#4) starts the decline, but is still strong with the blown out title track and some other fine psychedelic rock jams. Carnival In Babylon (#5) was (again) better than I remembered, and Live In London (#6) is basically a look back with nice clean punchy sound.

Laurie Anderson – United States Live
This could really use a remaster that evens the levels out between her distant, echoey audience-recording voice and the louder violin/tape parts. I used to be so, so into this, but it’s really for fans only, the first two studio albums are much better expressions of her talent.

Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak
Still the classic, arty avant-pop doesn’t get much better than this. Visionary sound design and production as well. Plus catchy tunes and funny asides!

Laurie Anderson – Bright Red/Tightrope
More haunting and claustrophobic than the early stuff, some of these songs are infused with a pervasive sense of dread. It’s also a big breakup album in my world, so maybe it’s just me but a lot of this record sounds sad and lonely.

Laurie Anderson – The Ugly One With The Jewels
Spoken word album, basically, yeah these stories are great, striking and funny and sad and weird, but the replay value is just not that high. I keep this around for when the odd track is perfect for a radio show.

Angry Samoans – Back From Samoa
Some of the very best original US hardcore, hands down. Back From Samoa beats 99% of all recorded punk music. The secret weapon here is the pristine recoding sound & quality, which makes their razor sharp well-honed 2-guitar attack that much more ferocious. Perfectly constructed, hateful, nihilistic, and essential (well, Back From Samoa at least, I’m not as big a fan of Inside My Brain and the less said about the remainder the better).

Anti Group – The Delivery
Much spacier and more fun than I remembered, side-long jazzy swirly with electronics.

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2
What can anyone say about this, really? There was a good long thing in Pitchfork recently cuz it’s an anniversary or something. Sui generis music that exists in a world by itself, too creepy to be ambient, too placid to be techno, too haunting and pretty to be industrial.

Ash Ra Tempel – S/T and Join Inn
Side long jams, one in a guitar trio style and one side of spacy whoosh on each record. I came to this stuff late and still prefer Manuel Gottsching’s later solo work. That being said, side two of Join Inn is really gorgeous.

Robert Ashley – In Sara…
I found this early (first?) record of his to be unlistenable, endless cutup text readings/spoken word madness. Into the sell pile.

Robert Ashley – Automatic Writing
A vast improvement, the title track is background “music” of the highest level, ultimately merging with your environment. The extra, earlier pieces are just the icing on the whispery cake of tantalizing almost-silence.

Robert Ashley – Private Parts
The masterpiece. Enduring, bewitching, calmly lucid dreams. Subtle tabla work and orchestration. Someone is talking about something in a reassuring and thoughtful way, so that the words aren’t really as important as the way they sound. The music swells and ebbs. Magic.

The Associates – Fourth Drawer Down
This is their peak if you ask me, the perfect experimental point between their post-punk debut and the full-on art-pop orchestration of Sulk (album #2). This disc collects the half-dozen wildly varied singles they made in between the two albums, the result of some kind of label advance or studio deal. Gloriously over-the-top vocals and great melodies meld with daring arrangements and unusual musical choices.

Au Pairs – BBC Sessions
This hasn’t aged as well as some other post-punk, they’re just so SERIOUS all the time. It has all the angular slash guitar and bouncy white-funk bass you could want, but damn they just never crack a smile.

Autechre – EP7
I’ve never really been able to “get” this band beyond a few scattered examples, and this “EP” (really album-length) is no exception. I can’t remember a single thing about it after listening, but it sounds cool while it’s playing.

Christine Baczewska – Tribe Of One
One of my favorite obscure artists, she was also in the fab Chicago band Care Of The Cow back in the late 70s/early 80s. I originally heard self-released cassettes of some of these tracks and instantly fell in love. Basically looped vocals and vocal tracks stacked together, humorous and insightful lyrics, weirdo melodies and eccentric instrumentation used mostly as an ornament to the layers of voice.

Bauhaus – In The Flat Field
The CD version adds a bunch of essential early singles to what is already a great debut. Their loudest and punkiest record, re-listening to this was a blast. Basically the template for goth-rock.

Bauhaus – Press The Eject
Theoretically this is great, fine live performances from the 1st 2 albums and related tracks, but it didn’t seem to add anything to the catalog (except to underscore what a kickass band they were, these blazing tracks lack the sloppiness of a lot of similar bands’ live recordings).

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication
I don’t really have anything to add here except to note that these records hold up very well and are still almost 100% awesome. Ill Communication probably could have been trimmed a bit, but damn everything else still makes you want to crank it up and dance your ass off (or slamdance, or sink into the couch after twenty bong hits, depending on the track).

Beatles – Abbey Road
I didn’t actually listen to this, I may never need to hear it again. But it wasn’t included in either the Purple Chick torrent I got or the Mono Box download, so I ended up buying this CD at the local 7-11 (lol) at the height of the hype just so I had all of the remasters.

Beck – Mellow Gold
Possibly even better than I remember it, the trippy sound of this album is so deep and engrossing especially on the slower tracks. “Beercan” is my favorite Beck tune, “Loser” is still classic, “Nitemare Hippy Girl” continues his tradition of great “list” songs, and “Fukin’ With My Head” still sounds great turned all the way up. Total classic.

Beck – Stereopathetic Soulmanure
This record, while wildly uneven, has its own special charm and contains at least three Beck classics (“Rowboat”, “Thunder Peel”, “Satan Gave Me A Taco”), so if you’re a fan you probably need it. The filler only adds to the insanity.

Beck – Midnite Vultures
My other favorite Beck record, his “dumb ass party music” record sadly appears to be a one-off, unlikely to be repeated. I love everything on this, from start to finish, even though the lyrics are almost confrontationally ridiculous.

Sandra Bell – Dreams Of Falling
Still one of the most satisfying full-length LPs to come out of the early-90’s New Zealand ‘Xpressway” scene, this is moody and minor and almost goth in its bleak melodicism and deadpan vocals. I especially love the weirder stuff like “Lost Train” and “Waitawhile” – if you’ve never heard her, start here.

Bevis Frond – Miasma
Note: The first four discs here are the older Reckless versions, London Stone is the first one I bought new on the Woronzow label. I love this early period so much, the home recording quality and questionable drumming only add to the charm. This one is the most wild and raw, but it’s still got a few stripped down pop gems in there amidst the guitar freakouts.

Bevis Frond – Inner Marshland
Even better, “Termination Station Grey” is his first truly classic tune IMO. Pretty goddamn close to essential for fans of psychedelic guitar music.

Bevis Frond – Triptych
This one is the masterpiece of the early period for me (defined as “when he played drums himself”). From the killer opening instrumental to the tossed-off “Hey Joe” cover, everything here is top notch psych madness.

Bevis Frond – A Gathering Of Fronds
I have a soft spot for this collection of compilation tracks, UK-only LP tracks, and miscellaneous debris. So much greatness, “Snow” and “High In A Flat” are highlights.

Bevis Frond – London Stone
In retrospect this is the beginning of the decline for me, where the songwriting and textures started to get samey and repetitive. The followup album (Sprawl) is great again, but my experience has been downhill from there. This one is the most standard collection of songs to date in his career, no instrumentals or filler tracks or weird intros, which is kind of a disappointment.

Big Black – The Rich Man’s 8-Track
Atomizer still rules. The guitars sound like sheets of metal being cut with a powered saw. Headache sounded better than I remembered, although yeah it’s not as good. Heartbeat is still a great single. Not really sure if I need this CD when I have the vinyl releases, though.

Big Boys – The Skinny Elvis & The Fat Elvis
Their early recordings reveal a band unafraid to assimilate a wide range of influences, but the sound doesn’t have the focus and power of the later work. Still one of the great US punk debut albums, “Where’s My Towel” (included on “The Skinny Elvis” along with two earlier releases) can hold its own with the likes of Damaged, Adolescents, or Fresh Fruit. Some of the fastest/earliest hardcore tempos as well. Once you get to the second CD, though, look out. Possibly the greatest of all the USHC bands, almost every goddamn song on “The Fat Elvis” (comprising their two later albums and the Fun Fun Fun EP) is a total classic screamalong. The funk gets funkier, the punk gets punkier, and the band just kills it every time. Essential.

Big Star – 1st/Radio City
This Ryko 2-fer CD remains one of the best deals out there, chock full of top-tier power pop blasts and aching ballads. Obviously classic. I know every note on this and it was still SO MUCH FUN to relisten.

Big Star – 3rd/Sister Lovers (Ryko version)
Quibble about the track order if you want, but the bonus tracks on this make it indispensable. The music, of course, contains some of the most haunting, desperate, devastated sounds and emotions ever put onto a record. Another breakup album that was actually painful for me to revisit, it has lost none of its terrible beauty and power. And the songs themselves, my god.

Big Stick – Pro Drag
I had never really given this a chance and was really impressed when I put it on, I even listened to it a second time. Sludgy, catchy, kitschy, sexy madness. Up there with their best work (i.e. 1st EP), you owe it to yourself to give this a listen. Themes are still cars, sex, and how cool they are.

Bingo – H-Ohm
Every once in a while, an artist totally nails a self-released debut album, but then it falls into the cracks of history and vanishes. This is near the top of my “ya gotta hear this thing” recommendations to anyone with even a passing interest in the PacNW post-Rounders freak-folk scene. He’s played shows with Michael Hurley and you can tell, but the instrumentation on this is more influenced by the full-band Golden Delicious sound (of which Bingo was a member, I believe). From full-band ragas to plaintive solo voice-and-banjo to thunderous indie jams, this record has it all, and it also contains several drop-dead classics penned by Bingo himself. Highest recommendation.

Biota – CD discography

Some general words here: I think the Biota discography represents the largest single-artist group of CDs yet in my collection (11 discs). Listening to all of it in order really helped to put their output into perspective as they celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. I just finished listening to the new album as of this writing, and it’s been very interesting to read the detailed description of their working processes included in the “bonus” Counterbalance CD (from the new box set). They have made some of the most amazing and indescribable music I’ve ever heard. Here’s my capsule reviews.

Biota – Bellowing Room (1987)
I own some earlier work (Mnemonists “Horde” and “Gyromancy” CDs, Biota’s “Rackabones” 2LP), and have the S/T “Biota” LP and the two early Mnemonists LPs and Roto-Limbs tape as sharity-blog MP3 downloads, but Bellowing Room is where you can really hear their style come into focus. Sidelong tracks, with their trademark effects already firmly in place. Basically you have a free jazz drummer, a classical guitarist, a jazz keyboard player, and a group of drunk ren-fair rejects crashing the party with accordion, zither, the insistent bleating of a ney or other reed instrument, and assorted other throwback instrumentation. Then the whole jam session is put through hallucinogenic layers of processing and post-production mix/matching, until the sound shifts and swirls and slithers and slides all around the stereo field, and different things bubble up out of the mix at various unexpected times, receding just as unexpectedly. As the years have gone by, the processing has become more subtle, particularly on the last two releases. Similarly, the instrumentation has skewed more and more into the “modern chamber music” realm, with more piano and recognizable sounds. On this early effort, you can really hear the free jazz and noise roots, the sound is way more massive and heavy and dense, but unlike the earlier work as Mnemonists you can hear the separate elements on the album. Things swirl, combine, break apart, and recombine. Instruments drift in and out of focus.

Biota – Tinct (1988)
Shorter tracks (2 on one side, 3 on the other) and a further refinement of style, but this is still pretty murky and undefinable compared to everything that came after (the Awry 10”, released after this, is a great collection of short pieces that is well worth tracking down). The psychedelic processing continues to take on a life of its own.

Biota – Tumble (1989)
This is where it gets really good. From the very start, as Tom Katsimpalis’ clear acoustic guitar lines ring out, everything is way more beautiful and melodic. Yet the structures are still bewildering (everything gets weird around 1 minute in when the ren-fair people crash through the door and the mushrooms kick in) - it turns out upon reading the new booklet that they would frequently mix different improv sessions together on purpose. The songs take lots of twists and turns amidst the slowly unfolding melodies and riffs – the accordion in particular really takes center stage here. The pieces tend to be longer still, in the 5 minute range on average. The peak of their early period and an indispensable album.

Biota/Mnemonists - Musique Actuelle 1990 (2004)
An outlier in the catalog, recorded over a decade before release. In the new box set booklet the band describes a harrowing & stressful scene around this rare (only?) live gig, recorded under less-than-ideal circumstances at a Montreal festival. Released by Anomalous Records and not really very similar to their then-current sound, this is more like the Tinct era material with additional live orchestra (and live sound). Probably the least essential release of the ones covered here.

Biota – Almost Never (1992)
Scored (??) orchestra starts to creep in here, this is a bit less distinct than Tumble and the individual pieces are blended into three long suites. The upbeat bagpipe melody that comes out of nowhere around halfway through is one of my favorite Biota moments. At least I think it’s a bagpipe? One of the strengths of this band is in making instruments sound like other instruments, it could be a hurdy-gurdy or like a fuckin harmonica or something, idk. But in general, this disc is a bit less memorable than its classic predecessor, although just as distinctive and unique in sound.

Biota – Object Holder (1995)
Another huge leap forward, many fans (including myself) were shocked by the actual songs with melodies, lyrics, and vocals that show up interspersed throughout the refractory pinwheels of hallucinatory sound. Suzanne Lewis’ work on vocals here is very distinctive and these are great songs on their own, impressively integrated into the work as a whole. The band also seems to regard this CD and the period that followed it as one of their peaks, this one and the two studio discs after it make up half of the new box set.

Biota – Invisible Map (2001)
A consolidation and expansion of the new worlds of sound unveiled on Object Holder, this one is even better and might be their peak. A different female vocalist here, I like Genevieve Heistek’s voice & violin work even more than Suzanne Lewis on the previous CD. Sometimes the lyrics/vocals are blurred into indistinguishable sounds, a trick which they would revisit next time. 37 short tracks that basically act as their own hidden magical universe of sound. A stunning achievement.

Biota – Half a True Day (2007)
Even weirder and arguably even slightly better than Invisible Map. They finally settle on a 3rd female vocalist, Kristianne Gale, who has been on every release since this one. Her work here is different than the surprises found later on – here she is just a chopped up blurry smear of sound, you can’t even distinguish phonemes let alone syllables. 70 minutes of bewildering immersion, Tom Katsimpalis’ guitar work is particularly lucid and crystalline here, as well as achingly beautiful.

Biota – Cape Flyaway (2012)
Once again, basically every Biota fan (i.e. all 100 of us) reacted to this with “wtf is going on here”. Gale steps into the center stage as a vocalist, using traditional folk songs as raw material. The thing is, it doesn’t sound like raw material – it sounds like a mashup version with an old folk song playing over a new instrumental background. But the familiarity of this vocal approach, in my opinion, works against their strengths as a band – making unrecognizable/uncategorizable music is one of their best attributes. The vocals here sound familiar, very much of this world, and not so much related to the trippy slip/slide/smear/shift bewilderment of Biota at their peak. For me this is a failed experiment in the end, although it’s interesting to hear and the non-vocal stuff sounds great as usual. I think it’s telling that this wasn’t included in the box set, while the three before it and the one after it were.

Biota – Funnel To A Thread (2014)
A resounding return to form, on these later records the processing starts to recede into the background and the structure/sound begins to skew more towards “small chamber orchestra” than “psychedelic witch’s brew”. The sound and structures are still pleasingly disoriented and off-kilter, though.

Biota – Fragment For Balance (2019)
Even less processing, even more of a chamber music vibe. I’ve only listened through to this twice, that’s all I got so far.

Biota – Counterbalance (2019)
Kind of bafflingly compiled, a “bonus disc” in the new box set that contains what seems like a bunch of outtakes from the new CD and one older track at the end. I’m still glad I sprung for the box because the very detailed booklet included here goes into great detail about their working process and its evolution over the years, which is fascinating to me.

Bongwater – Double Bummer Plus
First thought: This has NOT aged well. Second thought: This sure has a lot of filler. From a 30-year vantage point, the double album full-length debut is a big step down from the fun, concise debut EP (included in the CD package). It sounds like a bunch of different Kramer projects thrown together. Would have made a solid and impressive single LP but the extra stuff ranges from inessential to actively annoying and pointless (most of the “found” spoken interludes, for example).

Bongwater – Too Much Sleep
A huge improvement. Again, listening from a 30-year vantage point, the leap forward here is striking. Magnuson and Kramer are writing, playing, and singing together as a single unit. The songs seem stronger and more unified as well. High points include the killer Slapp Happy cover (tough to mess up one of the greatest songs ever, but still), the gorgeous title track, and the searingly painful women-as-patriarchy skit of “Talent Is A Vampire”. The quality drops a bit on side 2, but really this is solid all the way through. Their first great album (in retrospect).

Bongwater – The Power Of Pussy
The classic. Everything here is top notch. Highest recommendations if you like wigged-out psychedelic rock poetry about sex. Bonus points for at least a dozen endlessly quotable lines.

Boredoms – Onanie Bomb…
Their first album, impossible to find in the US for years after release, later reissued in the 90s for latepass losers like me. The “junk noise” aesthetic is pretty strong here, as is the Butthole Surfers influence. It’s not quite as heavy as the couple that followed, veering all over the map but still with a pretty limited overall approach compared to the madness that would follow. Oh, also, there’s like two solid minutes of EYE burping, which is quite disgusting still.

Boredoms – Soul Discharge/Early Boredoms
First of all, 30 years later, a big FUCK YOU to Shimmy Disc for putting this CD out as two 40-minute tracks without indexing. After the mindblowing “Michidai” single, Soul Discharge at the time sounded like the most amazing thing ever. Relistening now, it’s almost exhaustingly heavy in its continuous attack. There’s only minor diversions from the onslaught. The early stuff is fabulous again, maybe even better than the debut. I think I actually prefer the earlier junk-noise approach to the destructo heaviness, for semi-regular listening anyway.

1 comment:

MR. RANDOM said...

This is great!