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Steeple Chase

13 Oct

New WOLF PEOPLE album entitled Steeple (Jagjagwar, 2010) is out, and oooooohh my lord is it great. These guys really are the living breathing writhing snake that connects Richard Thompson’s FAIRPORT CONVENTION with Spirit of ’76-era SPIRIT and on through TELEVISION’s Marquee Moon, only with a harder rocking core than any of those wimps ever mustered. And they do it in a manner that’ll make the most complete and perfect sense to even those unfamiliar with all this rock n roll history I’m continually dredging up! They have been the soundtrack to my life the last few years here in London; they can write, they can play, they can rock – and dammit if they ain’t got soul. Unfuckingreal.

Can’t wait to see em do it live at The Lexington on the 20th. No doubt this will be my last gig I’ll catch of theirs for a while, as we’re moving up to York – Hitting The North, so to speak – in nearly a month’s time. If you’re in London or the vicinity, do come down, say hi, and wish us luck with the move. And, for a few moments, bask in what it’s really all about, musically speaking.

Two Sides of the Beast

16 Mar

WOLF PEOPLE‘s Tidings LP (Jagjaguwar Records, 2010) is out, and what a heavy temporal trip it is. Recorded primarily by WOLF PEOPLE leader Jack Sharp over nearly half a decade, it documents the pre-history of his current band in homemade, quilted fashion. The sound is a kind of hermetically sealed and delicately wrought English psych/prog, comparable in approach to the earliest BEVIS FROND records. Jack renders things economically with the assistance of a few choice friends, a stack full of scratchy old LPs, and an assortment of vintage instrumentation. Some songs are honed to fine points, jousting out of the speakers like lost Roger Chapman & FAMILY demos; others are rough sketches that fragment and/or coalesce in beautiful ÄLGARNAS TRÄDGÅRD dislocation; still others meander quietly in the background, lilting on the periphery of collective folk memory for weeks after. It’s a really intimate, beautiful statement that, while steeped in the rock forms of another generation, is imagined and executed in ways only thoroughly modern cats could, circa 2010.

But studio creations like this do have their limitations, since absolutely nothing can top the cathartic rush of seeing a great live band, doing it in real time. And WOLF PEOPLE, today, are doing just that. Recent gigs have been phenomenal, demonstrating a refined sense of musical interplay that’s moved far beyond any of their waxed evidence to date. TELEVISION comparisons remain the most apt, with the anxious, Richard Lloyd-like freakouts of gtrist Joe Hollick acting as a foil for the Tom Verlainesque pose of Jack himself. But then, there’s that hardened rhythm section powering it all – Daniel Davies’ fat, upfront bass lines and chordage (shades of Jack Casady!) meshing powerfully with Tom Watt’s faceflattening drumming. Taken in toto, the whole concoction bowls me over every goddamn time.

I wanted to know more about this two-sided beast, and decided to do something about it. As there are already a few interviews with Jack Sharp floating around the internet, I lobbed a few questions toward Joe Hollick, perhaps the quietest WOLF person of all. And lo and behold, he’s happily answered them all, and in wonderfully candid fashion! Heck I’d reckon even WOLF PEOPLE newbies should be able to appreciate this one, so crank up Tidings and read on . . .

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1. WOLF PEOPLE’s Tidings LP is a kind of archeological dig, exhuming your very earliest studio stirrings. Can you talk a little about how things have changed since those recordings were made? I imagine anyone seeing you guys live today would be struck by just how evolved you now sound.

The way we’ve developed is a little odd in terms of how bands usually get together, we’ve sort of ‘reverse engineered’ the current sound from the act of learning to play Jack’s original recordings. Tidings is basically the sound of Jack in his studio experimenting. When his first recordings were picked up by Jim from Sea Records and Doug from Battered Ornaments, there was no live band whatsoever. I’ve known others who have done solo projects and they’ve really struggled to recruit a band with any real ‘life’ in it, but not with this project, its managed to really bed in and take off. I feel really lucky to be playing this music; I’ve always wanted to be in a band like this since I was 10. Jack has chanced upon musicians who have the same interests, playing styles and almost identical backgrounds, at times spookily so. When learning the songs that comprise Tidings, we found we couldn’t do them exact, so we just started bending and stretching the songs to fit us, that’s how the current sound has evolved into tougher things like Caratacas and Tiny Circles. Its also been so much fun playing the tunes live that it made us feel like a proper band very quickly. The main problem we have is it differs from the Tidings sound, I just hope people understand the lineage and appreciate how we’ve changed.

2. Do you guys all contribute to the music, lyrics, and arrangements? It’s some potent, heady stuff for sure.

Musically, the current setup is almost a rough four way split, leaning heavily towards Jack, we don’t really discuss it too much, our ideas seem to lock in, we are all on the same page. Jack looks after the lyrics and arranges his ideas in anticipation of how we will play them. None of us know too much about his lyrics, but it’s the only band I’ve been in where I’ve been proud to hear them sung, they describe a certain Englishness that I think is missing in all music I hear now from this country. Personally I think Jack uses me as riff-o-matic generator, I’m terrible at arranging but the only thing I can do is occasionally have some weird thing fall out of the fretboard to be given up for dissection. The next record is going to be the sound of us, mixed with the production elements and ideas that Jack originated with. You can hear the influences of the other musicians creeping in gradually, Cotton Strands was the first thing me, Jack and Ross did. Tiny Circles is the sound of Jack writing a tune knowing in advance how we play live, and knowing how good Tom and Dan can be when given a great big nasty riff to dig into.

3. Without Ross Harris’ flute, your Telecaster has gradually taken on a more prominent role in the WP sound. Was this a conscious choice you guys made?

Not at all, Ross is a great friend who turned up at rehearsals and now is busy playing with his other project, THE SPEAKERS CORNER QUARTET. We made no active decision to get a flute player, he just started hanging around, and it sounded brilliant, he’s a real force of nature that lad. He’s way too good for us, he knows Pythagorean scales and can play under water backwards. It is really hard to fill the gap when he is not there though. I’m not the most confident of guitarists and quite like hiding at the back with my head down getting on with it, and it was easy to hide behind Ross. He provides a real focus point live, and without him at first we were just exposed as a basic guitar band, but it made us kick up a gear. I’ve had to try and turn into a lead guitarist, and take some of his improvisational style and constantly reinvent parts every gig.

I must point out that my poor old Telecaster was a stop gap guitar, I’ve given it back to my dad. My main guitar was my old 67 Firebird III that has the best neck pickup ever, but that does not like being in a car or actually being played at all, and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone concerned for the 3 years of out-of-tune gigs that wonderful guitar provided. I tried putting the Firebird pickups in the tele, but it sounded rubbish, I think its got something to with the placement of the neck pickup in relation to the 12th fret of the Gibson, or some voodoo like that. Its all changed since I found this Strat though…

4. Where in god’s name did you learn to play such blistering leads and bluesy slide?

I’m flattered, that’s the first compliment I’ve ever had from someone who isn’t a family member, unless its sarcasm? Are you not getting confused with Jack?! I actually find playing guitar very hard and very painful, I actually don’t know what I’m doing. My Dad taught me to play when I was 5, but only one chord for the first year, he taught me how to hammer on and do a staccato rhythm before I learnt chords, so I would just sit and chug away on an E chord. He never used a pick, but gave me a bit of cardboard, this soon wore away so I learnt to use the back of my fingernail. At this time I didn’t know why you played guitar, it was just something my dad did, so I developed this odd way of playing that has either provided me with a different thing to others, or has hampered me in terms of developing. I get stuck in ruts, and try to overcome technical inability with nervous energy. I really don’t like performing, I feel like such a fraud stood on stage, and I get incredibly nervous, so I end up getting over it by grasping it and almost have to will the notes out of the guitar, I think this sometimes translates and other times sounds like a bit of racket.

My favourite guitarists are people like Richard Thompson and Neil Young, they manage to turn mistakes around and I think that’s what I’m ok at. I like playing acoustic and play really softly, but with an electric I feel like I’m bending bits of barbed wire. Without a pick you get lots of subtle sounds with your fingers and nails but you don’t get the clarity that a pick provides. My index finger is more trebly, whereas my middle finger is used for chords, and I occasionally I play with two fingers and a thumb. Through a squashy valve amp on full its amazing the sounds you can get. I think me and Jack compliment each other, he can do all that technical stuff and play in a very clear, melodic and articulate way, whereas I tend to play more percussively. I’m better live, but can’t record for toffee, I can’t play the same thing twice and have to push myself very hard to get it right, and I’m never happy with what I’ve done.

5. I’ve gathered that Jack Sharp arrived at the current WOLF PEOPLE rock trip via hip hop, originally as an attempt to create the very music he was sampling, but on real instruments. Certainly, the cut n paste mixing of the LP reflects that. Did you also come at all this through hip-hop/DJ culture?

No not at all. I am about as hip hop as a cupboard. I love that Edan record Beauty and the Beat though, and a guy called Sonic Sum. I grew up listening to people like J.J. Cale and Richard Thompson, the Strict Tempo album and Calvary Cross being favourites. By chance I heard CAN when I was too young and that blew my mind right off. I did get into dance music and electronica, a lot of ambient drone and noise type stuff. However meeting this lot and hearing the music that peers Cherrystones and Rich Hero play has just opened the floodgates. I’m not massively into records though, the others are in a big way, and I don’t listen much at home. I have a record player but it only plays DUNGEN 4.

6. I’ve noticed your audiences seems pretty disparate: a diverse mix of young hipsters, longhair stoner types, gristled old hippies, even the odd American nutcase or two. This must make for some interesting audience reactions. Has there been a most-memorable gig thus far?

There have been gigs that make you question why you even own a guitar, yet there have been some gigs where it has felt like the planets have aligned, but I don’t really like looking up at gigs, so I can’t tell whether people like it or not really, this isn’t meant to sound arrogant, I just have to concentrate really hard. We have had some great support, at the last gig two lads drove down from Birmingham and back for the night, incredible, we really appreciate it. We tend to play well when we are the under-dogs. There was one gig at a festival where we went on way too late and all had work next morning, something clicked during the set and it reminded me why you spend £90 on petrol and 11 hours on the road, it was great, I love that feeling, where you lose your sense of place. I have great respect for the other members as musicians, I’m really proud of this band. We’ve actually got limited confidence on stage, though its growing. We’ve had some tough gigs where we’ve had mute reactions, but people who get the influences and see an honest enthusiasm tend to enjoy it.

I’ll always feel daft when someone pays to see us though, I feel like giving them a bit back for a pint to say thanks or something. Mainly as everyone can play guitar and is in a band it seems, so I always over-think about what we are offering in comparison to everyone else. I really hope the audiences stay diverse, I like to think we appeal to both record-heads and casual listeners, the sounds are there yet we try and keep it easy to digest. There are many bands that do long wig outs and noisy sections but we are trying to reign them in and concentrate them into shorter bursts, which for me is more interesting.

7. Aside for WOLF PEOPLE, you’ve also played on another Battered Ornaments release: THE LAUGHING WINDOWS double 10″. Can you tell us a bit about that project?

Its based around just meeting up with Luke Insect and Mike Sharpe and seeing what happens. We went to Pete Hedley’s (BENEATH FIRE & SMOKE) beautiful studio in south Wales and pressed the record button. After a year or two we collected enough bits and pieces to stitch together an EP, some of it recorded with one mic in a rehearsal room, there’s tons of other bits that went unused. I love it, it doesn’t matter whats in there, it is the attitude in which it was done. Its nice to just go and not to have to worry about structure or chord changes. Its really innocent and not trying to be anything with any purpose. We now live at opposite ends of the country but I think it will be something that’ll rear its head every now and again.

8. By day, you’re also a freelance graphics designer. Are you responsible for WP’s striking visual imagery too?

The first three sleeves are by the incredibly talented Luke Insect, who is a proper graphic designer. I did the Tidings sleeve, which was good fun, mainly as I could make models of machines. I was trying to copy the way Jack makes music, often going from one media to another and back and forth, from tape to hard drive and back. I took photos of all the gear involved, printed them out and made them into models and re-shot them. With other work, I just try and get by, I find the bread and butter work hard, but occasionally I get inspired. Most of the stuff has been done quickly and as a way of experimenting for other work, but I would like it to start getting better and more involved.

I used to work for Storm Thorgerson of PINK FLOYD/Hipgnosis fame, that was incredible, a real experience. He’s a great fellow, even though I was made to walk into EMI dressed as a section of The Wall. I wasn’t trendy enough though to get by in the freelance London graphic design world, I still get work down there and get to do a sleeve or illustration, but to make ends meet I have a part time job in a building restoration charity in the outskirts of Burnley. Its good for keeping your feet on the ground. It does mean that all future artwork is going to take on the influence of Georgian architectural plans however, but I feel this fits with the music, its quite solid and painstakingly built.

9. And finally: when are WOLF PEOPLE gonna go try and conquer the States? Americans are gonna devour it, I promise.

When we can all get holiday from our jobs and scrape together our loose change for the ferry. We’d love to come over, some of our most positive comments have come from the US, they really get it. I’d really like to know what more people think. I think its an import/export thing. To certain people here we are not ‘exotic’ or mysterious, just scruffy blokes from Bedford, London and the Yorkshire Dales. There’s a definite attitude over there that has allowed great bands like HOWLIN’ RAIN and THE BLACK KEYS to flourish. I think that an English band playing like that would be put down over here by our over-critical mainstream, in the States it seems they embrace it and let it breathe a bit more. It appears to be a dirty word to play your instrument with skill and finesse at the moment, but I’m proud of UK bands like VOICE OF THE SEVEN THUNDERS, SOUNDCARRIERS and THE LIFTMEN, they are going a long way to readdressing the balance.

Winter Warmers

8 Mar

How do you get through the grim winter months? Some folks spend every waking hour round the pub sipping pints, turning eyelids into stormshutters to ward off the nasty weather. Others indulge in copious amounts of retail therapy, running up senseless bills that follow them well into the summer months. Still others, they curl up into little balls, shutting down all social engagement in a kind of deep functional hibernation.

Me, I just rock the fuck out, and that much louder. So here’s a few recent-ish releases that have been getting me through this neverending cold weather that’s been gripping England since I can’t remember:

1. JEX THOTHJex Thoth CD (I Hate Records, 2008) This CD hasn’t really left my radar since it first came out, and seeing as JEX THOTH is all set to release a new mini-LP next month, it’s been getting extra play in this household lately. This is amazing barefooted heaviness that had Julian Cope trotting out all manner of comparisons to PENTAGRAM, BLACK SABBATH, and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE a year ago. But with good reason, too – these guys really do sound like folkies gone electric and then heathen heavyass, in that order. Alot of know-nothings have derided JEX’s voice (it’s not metal enough! it’s not femme enough! it’s not SHUT UP ALREADY) but I fucking love her strident delivery. She means what she sings, and what she sings is right on. At times the whole thing reminds me of a more focused, pagan version of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE, if that means anything to you. The production gives it a humid, undersea cave vibe we all know and love from that first WITCHCRAFT CD, but there’s also something refreshingly modern about this too – like, I might bump into one of these folks hiding behind a standing stone during my next trip to Avebury. One of the best things I’ve heard out of California in recent years.

2. THE REACTIONARIES1979 LP (Water Under The Bridge/45 RPM Records, 2010) Green vinyl issue of a January 1979 practice pad recording that documents the no frills punker action Mike Watt, D. Boon, and George Hurley got up to with singer Martin Tamburovich prior to any MINUTEMEN mustering. Low-fi but still very fine and distinctive suburban punker stuff indeed, sorta like if THE URINALS had a mind to demolish the early CLASH songbook. The developing styles of these individual players bleed through during solos/intros, with the final song, “Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro” pointing directly at THE MINUTEMEN proper.

If that’s not enough, we also get an album side of various one-off aggregations featuring members of SACCHARINE TRUST, THE ZARKONS, RIG, THE RUB, F.Y.P. etc. – not to mention Watt and Hurley themselves – covering the same REACTIONARIES songs with 3 decades hindsight. The excitement these oldsters inject into the songs is totally palpable and infectious, as if everyone’s pleased to be tackling Watt/Boon songs that don’t have madcrazy rhythmic changes laced throughout em. These covers are uniformly great and all a hoot and half, but if a gotta pick one, I’d reckon it’s Jack Brewer who steals the show (as always). His gruff reading of “1979″ – wherein he tries to sing all you people think you’re cas/ just cause you heard the clash/ you’ll always be stuck in your time/ wake up to the times! with a straight face – cracks me up bigtime. Kudos to Craig Ibarra for curating this one with so much love.

3. HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOEEverything’s For Sale (Alive Records, 2009) No I do not approve of the let’s-do-it-without-a-bass approach that’s been prevalent ever since THE WHITE STRIPES did whatever they did to make people like em. Though one thing’s certain: if you are a rock duo interested in heavy, primitivist blues rock, do it like HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOE, without any wink-wink irony and with some kickass rhythmic power. Singer/gtrist Aled Clifford’s growl is strong, his riffing nicely loud and crunchy, and the way he integrates slide into his heavy playing reminds me of some of RORY GALLAGHER’s mid-70′s highs. Still, this record feels less than complete. I suppose finding a decent bass player in post-Dr. Who Wales ain’t as easy as when MAN and BUDGIE ruled the Black Mountains, but methinks some fat, low end chooglin’ could do wonders for these obviously talented bros. Any bassists out there wanna give these guys a call?

4. CLAW HAMMERDeep In The Heart of Nowhere! Live in Texas 1995 (Munster Records, 2009) Speaking of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE . . . thank Americentric Europeans for digging this one up. Friggin’ tremendous live set by one of the very greatest bands to emerge from late 80′s, Raji’s-era Los Angeles. Drummer Bobzilla’s hilarious liner notes are alone worth the price of admission, but what you get here is so, so much more. This totally lays to waste their decent but flawed 90′s studio stuff. The sheer relentlessness of these guys’ sonic attack – a twisted, high energy, but still bluesy form of prog/punk – was always guaranteed to turn off the staider elements in the audience. And Jon Wahl’s hair-raising vocal screech wasn’t exactly calculated to reassure anybody. But for those looking for uncommonly inspired musical ideas, wildly impressive chops, and an unhinged emotional flow that spoke of secret knowledge gleaned from chemical explorations of a psychedelic nature – look no further. The clear mix gives every instrument it’s rightful space, and on this night in ’95, CLAW HAMMER was on fire and out for blood. Dallas didn’t have a chance.

oh boy what a year

25 Dec

Best of 2009? Well if you’re anything like me, you’re so far out of the proverbial loop that you can barely name a dozen albums that came out this past year, let alone come up with a top 10 of 2009. Heck, NME’s list of the best 50 and Popmatter’s list of the best 60 albums of 2009 contain a combined total of three records I willingly cracked an ear to this year, and even those (if you’re wondering it was MASTODON, BATS FOR LASHES, and FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE) barely got a full listen.

So what did? Well, I-Tunes stats tell me it was HONK’s 1973 softrock cut “Don’t Let Your Love Stand” that got the most spins in this household over the past year; I have only ex-MECHANIC Dennis Catron to thank/blame for that. But there was a bunch of stuff that actually saw release in 2009 that I also listened to alot, stuff I haven’t yet paid tribute to here at PS RECON. And this post aims to round up that lot, stuff that made this tough year a bit easier to swallow. The envelopes please . . .

1. Most Godlike UK Single of 2009: WOLF PEOPLE Tiny Circles/Mercy II 45 (Battered Ornaments Records) Jawdroppingly great, darkly glistening psych by a young band that keeps getting more challenging and nimble with their every jazzbluesprog twist n turn. This recording marks the end of flautist Ross Harris’ tenure with the band; for most of this year, they’ve been trimmed down to a 4 piece. But fear not: live, they’ve been absolutely shredding stages around town with TELEVISIONesque twin gtr prowess ever since. Their newest songs emphasize all manner of melodic, rhythmic, and compositional intricacies that promise WOLF PEOPLE will be the UK rock force of the coming decade. Get a seat on board their train while tickets are plentiful.

2. Best SST-Related Release of 2009: THE NICHE MAKERS Soul Sealed The Deal LP (Ten Rounds Publishing) Trippy new musical projects by Raymond Pettibon are a cause for great excitement around here. His cryptic lyrics are a kind of sound poetry: cliches and truisms are deformed, devolved and reconnected in oddly intuitive ways, leaving literal meaning to wallow in the dust of free association and lolling wordplay. The squeezebox-led folkies behind him play it sympathetic and warm, but are ultimately secondary to Ray’s very personal verbage. Anyone following this man’s musical development will note this is as fucked up and peculiar as his work with SUPER SESSION, SUR DRONE, and more recently with THE UNKNOWN INSTRUCTORS. Oh and the color LP cover is a beautiful mystery to behold.

3. Best Maryland Doom Release of 2009: IRON MAN I Have Returned CD (Shadow Kingdom) – Yes, WINO’s solo CD was biker strong, AGAINST NATURE’s most recent conjured up beautiful Italian soundtrack goblins, and REVELATION just put out a real powerful album last month. But recently Al Norris III (aka “The Black Tony Iommi”) pulled together a superior IRON MAN line up and bested them all with this great hard rock platter. The new singer has a croon that kinda/sorta reminds me of Merrill Ward during his SWA days, the songs are focused in a way the recent SHRINE BUILDERS CD wasn’t, and Al’s crunchy, string-bending rhythm gtr spew is totally captivating from alpha to omega and back again. Man, I hope these balding guys tour.

4. Biggest Scandinavian Mindblower of 2009: MOTORPSYCHO Child Of The Future LP (Rune Grammofon) Continues the overdriven psych rock of their last CD, but somehow the lead gtr is even more explosive and searching this time around (no mean feat, that). Nigel Cross rightly identifies an exploratory, late 60′s West Coast influence at work, but the raging hypomania that fuels this ain’t retro at all – the sound here has everything to do with The Here And Now. Like THE NICHEMAKERS you’re gonna haveta dig out your turntable to hear it. But once you do, you’ll barely be able to catch your breath, let alone look back.

5. Biggest Scandinavian Bummer of 2009: SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES Communion CD (Yep Roc Records) These guys used to be a major label fave of mine, and I admit I’d been looking forward to this for a long time. But oh man, what a particularly stinky, steaming pile of shit this one is. Anybody fancy some annoying, wanna-be OASIS schlock rock? Not me. Recycled ideas, worn out riffs, tired emotions . . . even the Arthur Lee “tribute” included herein is limp and hackneyed. I’m still trying to fathom where they found the energy to record a double record of such redundancy. This Communion is as stale as last year’s wafers buried deep in the cupboard.

6. Best Ex-Boy Band Member Release of 2009: DRACO ROSA Amor Vincit Omnia CD (Phantom Vox) I’ve given up arguing this guy’s virtues to my wife . . . suffice it to say you’re missing out on a gorgeous voice and some passionate performances if you’re scared off by his MENUDO affiliations. No brooding rock this time round ala his great Vagabundo rec; Draco’s squarely in his adult contempo latin-lover crooner mode, which will turn off a good 90% of you out of the box. But this guy and his session musicians got talent coming out their oídos. If I was a straight chick, no doubt my bedroom walls would be plastered with posters of this heartthrob. I hereby give you permission to swoon deeply.

7. Best UK Indie Rock Release of 2009: THE LIFTMEN The Liftmen CD (Twisted Nerve) Gal-led indie rock ain’t the first thing I reach for most days, but dammit if this CD ain’t getting me reconsider a whole pantload of unexamined musical prejudices. This Bristol band filters the joyous outsiderdom of early 80′s post punk (think FAMILY FODDER) through post-TORTOISE grooves to nice effect. The particulars they sing of (sickly newts, mushy peas, St. George tattoos) speak of that alienation which modern, low rent English life dredges up in all of us. But it’s main gtrist/songwriter, Neil Smith, who captures my attention the most. His inventive playing is oddly reminiscent of SLOVENLY’s Tom Watson, had Tom hailed from The West Country rather than The West Coast. The Twisted Nerve/Battered Ornaments label stable has given us real good ones – the CANisms of THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, the archaic lushness of BENEATH FIRE & SMOKE, and of course my faves WOLF PEOPLE – but THE LIFTMEN can hold their own admirably in this company.

8. Best Archival Release of 2009: LOVE Love Lost CD (Sundazed) If only miserable folkies like Richie Unterberger hadn’t highjacked Arthur Lee’s legacy, more people would be checking out the very substantial, soulful work he produced throughout the decade after Forever Changes. These unreleased Columbia tapes from ’71 be ample proof of that. This wasn’t intended to be a full album, but full it indeed feels – brimming with post Hendrix jams and succinct acoustic songs that are mind expanding but far more coherent than anyone ever wanted to believe this guy was capable of. If only all cracked geniuses had these kinda skeletons lurking unheard in their closets . . .

9/10. CD Reissue That Made Me Smile Widest of 2009: A tie, between the self-titled debuts from STRAY DOG (1973, Manticore; reissued by Esoteric/Cherry Red) and MORNING (1970, Vault; now on Wounded Bird). Both these recs have been constantly loved companions of mine since I was a young adult. Whether your bag is STRAY DOG’s crazed, over the top Texas bluesrock, or MORNING’s delicate, rural West Coast poprock, these albums are truly inspired, golden rays of musical sunshine. My bag has ample room for both. Here’s hoping new audiences will rediscover them once more.

One By One

25 Oct

And oh my: check out this scorching new clip of WOLF PEOPLE performing “Dorney Reach” at the Moseley Folk Festival last month, which I’m now kicking myself for missing. This is as close as you overseas types are gonna come to experiencing their godlike live thing – at least, until their Jagjaguwar Records CD comes out and they go conquer the rest of the world.

LA Reissue Round-Up

29 Aug

Back on the Recon attack again, in somewhat typically SoCalCentric fashion. So what if I wear my musical obsessions on my shirtsleeve! Betcha you can’t beat me to the end of this post . . .

post coverJEFF SIMMONS – “Appian Way” (from Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, Straight Records, 1970; reissued by Collector’s Choice Music, 2008) There was this older, Seattle-born gtr player I once knew, he’d seen Jeff play with ETHIOPIA, a Northwest-based band in the late 60’s. And he swore that Jeff was actually waaay better on lead gtr than on the bass he played with THE MOTHERS throughtout the early 70’s. Now while I’ve always wanted to believe him, this record ain’t gonna set the record straight, since it’s Craig Tarweather (ex DAILY FLASH) and Frank Zappa himself who are ripping the killer leads here.

But I can see why both this guy and Zappa dug him: Jeff’s influences are vast, reaching back to 20’s tinpan alley, doo-wop, jazz/blues, Sunset Strip freak rock, all the while foreshadowing the restless prog constructions of the coming decade. His bizarre and wryly ironic observations (often about LA life) are beautifully crooned, getting me to think I’m listening to Richard “MacArthur Park” Harris belt out passages from John Fante’s Ask The Dust. Unlike Zappa – who half the time was just a fucking comedian – Jeff was obtusely humorous but actually quite poetic and self-effacing. This ultimately served a much less irritating, delicate artistic vision. If Emitt Rhodes succeeded in giving me a version of THE BEATLES I can actually appreciate, then Jeff has damn nearly done the same for FRANK ZAPPA’s aesthetic. Jeff, we wish you’d given us some more.

GroundshakerGROUNDSHAKER – “Abaseal” (from their self-titled LP on Red Lounge Records, 2007) First time this world’s been privy to this wild, early 70′s unreleased studio recording. Yep this LA by-way-of SF band clearly learnt important lessons from early BLUE CHEER recs, but the earthy gnarl is turned so far up on this one, you’d be forgiven to think this wasn’t a lost session by Houston’s god almighty DEAD MAN, or even an early PENTAGRAM set. The mood is dark and heavy, the vocal/gtr histronics way pronounced, the material better than average.

So I admit I don’t ask much more from my early 70′s longhairs than to get heavy, start screaming, and whip off a paint-peeling solo . . . but GROUNDSHAKER was more exciting than dozens of other bands that actually had contemporaneous releases back then. I’m now wondering who guys like this woulda opened for along the Strip back in ’72: STEPPENWOLF? Late era IRON BUTTERFLY perhaps? Maybe Arthur Lee’s rebuilt LOVE? I can’t think of too many others in LA willing to go to such dark places. Yet another record that’ll burst your Brian Wilson fantasy about SoCal in the time it takes to smoke the PCP cig that biker just handed you.

2830957.41THE NERVES – “Hanging on the Telephone” (from One Way Ticket, Alive Naturalsound Records, 2008) Finally the world has easy access to the oeuvre of the most important just-pre-punk band LA ever gave the world. This makes that 80’s French LP on Revenge obsolete by pulling together their crucial ’76 studio/demo material, the unreleased ’77 BOMP single, a gaggle of live tracks, and a few stray NERVE endings (tracks by Paul & Peter’s BREAKAWAYS, the JACK LEE BAND, early PLIMSOULS, etc). It’s a grand total of 20 songs that take less than 40 minutes to listen to, but that’s ok cause it’s some of the best stripped down, DAVE CLARK FIVE-on-speed pop this world will ever hear. Forget about BLONDIE and check out any of the first half dozen songs on this baby – clean, razor sharp, and succinctly urgent, rarely has so-called powerpop ever sounded this raw and alive. Peter Case coulda shat bricks in his PLIMSOULS and I woulda still bowed down to him on this basis of these hallowed recordings. Trebly NERVES jangle will continue to light up my night sky for decades to come.

2cdRHINO 39 – “Sleepwalking” (from their self-titled double CD on Nickle & Dime Records, 2007) RHINO 39’s “Xerox” 45 may have been the least crucial thing that Dangerhouse Records ever gave the world, but HEY: did your/my shitty band ever put out a record on Dangerhouse? I think not. By the early 80’s, they had morphed into something pretty damn distinctive. Like fellow Long Beach dwellers SECRET HATE, RHINO 39 displayed a loopy ambition that derailed any rote HCisms that might’ve otherwise crept in.

This 2-CD anthology is one loong set, collecting damn near everything they recorded. This includes their Dangerhouse recordings, an entire album of unreleased demos from 1979-80, unique contributions to the Hell Comes to Your House, American Youth Report, and When Men Were Men And Sheep Were Scared comps – pinnacles of individualistic suburban noise, those LPs were! – and their Flipside Records LP from ’86. Paralleling THE WEIRDOS’ musical development, RHINO 39 matured with time but with their underlying yahoo outsider stance intact, ringing true no matter how short/long their hair or how fast/slow they were bashing it out. While RHINO 39 may never be first tier, they were quite appealing in a wild, messy sort of way. No doubt they’ll help you flesh out that crazy SoCal HC punker jigsaw puzzle in any number of subtle but vital ways.

———–

And on a separate note: the best band in England right now, WOLF PEOPLE, have signed to Jagjaguwar Records and are promising a new album in 2010. This means you stateside folk will soon be able to bask in their trippy, dual gtr JETHRO TULLy, TELEVISIONoid rocking in the comfort of your own homes/I-Pods! If anyone can succeed in restoring belief that London is still capable of creating distinctly powerful rock and roll, it’s these guys.

Wolfcraft

19 May

2436905125_95404f18b1No reason to blog about the great WITCHCRAFT, GRAVEYARD & WOLF PEOPLE gig we saw last night in London, when my wife has kindly done it for me. Only thing I’d add is WITCHCRAFT‘s Magnus Pelander really is the missing link between Scott ‘Wino’ Wienrich and Nick ‘Bevis Frond’ Salomon – the highest kudos I can offer. And WOLF PEOPLE? Them unassuming guys had the jaws of every stringy longhair Swede (that be you, GRAVEYARD) on the goddamn floor, with good reason too. WP are gonna be huge, I tell ya.

Wolf Whistling

28 Feb

3312908003_0a4f8fe0cc

Best band going in England right now? WOLF PEOPLE, that’s who.

To really appreciate these guys you may have to rethink your relationship to so-called retro rock. Not unlike ELOPE and WITCHCRAFT from Sweden, London’s WOLF PEOPLE reinvent 60′s & 70′s sounds in ways that’ll get you believing it never faded away in the first place. The use of musical history here ain’t nothing like SHA NA NA’s silly 70′s/50′s shenanigans nor THE B-52′s camp 80′s/60′s fashion nor even OZRIC TENTACLES’ clueless 90′s/70′s cosmic pilfering. No, these are future-forward musicians who just happen to be coming of age at a time when lost older musics are a viable and indeed modern foundation for inspiring sonic newbuild.

I can’t take credit for discovering these guys. Mr. Nigel Cross, he of the amazing Shagrat Records label, hipped me to these guys a while back – thanks Nigel. As WOLF PEOPLE have been in holed up in Wales for the past few months recording their first full-length, I only recently got to see em do it live at cozy What’s Cookin’ in godforsaken Leytonstone. I swear I still ain’t the same since.

WOLF PEOPLE are a 5-piece who explicitly harken back to that oft-overlooked pinnacle of British music, when English whiteboy electric bluesrock was breaking out of trad American imitation in dozens of completely unexpected, uniquely inspired directions. Like bands of that original psychedelic era, WOLF PEOPLE riffs are rugged and bluebased but fold in jazzy/eastern influences seamlessly. Songs belie well thought out prog ambition, while band interplay demonstrates a deep love of complex rhythmic exploration. Full-on hardpsych freakouts are juxatposed with beautifully restrained vocals, and wildass improvs are tempered by a tense, measured decorum. A particularly English worldview shapes their thing, and it’s goddamn glorious to behold.

Yes the flute will remind you lunkheads of JETHRO TULL, while the bluesy riffs will have the more astute among you thinking Peter Green-era FLEETWOOD MAC or perhaps MIGHTY BABY. But what’s really going on here is 5 dudes at the absolute top of their respective games, inspiring/challenging each other to go one step beyond. The passion & fire stoking their train avoids any pat historical comparisons, and their singer – oh man! He is one haunted, soulful shouter fr sure.

Here it’s 2009, and you still got Brits capable of expressing themselves in ways that they, alone, will forever own. Seeing this enacted live was a true goose-bump raising experience. I can’t wait for the new CD.

WOLF PEOPLE – “Caratacas (Live)” (B-Music Migrating! Caustic! – Mutatable! Tour 7″, Battered Ornaments, 2008)

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