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The Joints Don’t Work Like They Used To

10 Jul

Old music bloggers like me don’t die, we just find that the upgrades introduced by our hosts are increasingly intrusive (WordPress: what the heck do I need Akismet stats for?), and that most of the clever hyperlinks that punctuated old posts have long since expired. But that doesn’t mean I’m quitting – no sir indeed, I ain’t no quitter nohow. So here I am again, to type about what’s been buffering my ears from commuter noise on the Piccadilly Line as of late. Dig in:

JEFFREY LEE PIERCE SESSIONS PROJECTWe Are Only Riders (Glitterhouse, 2010) Everybody else will say they love this one, but they’ve also said they love the last dozen recs Nick Cave has been involved with, and we all know those have been CRAP, right? Right. Me I found this brooding tribute – featuring Lydia Lunch, Mark Lanegan, and of course droopy ol’ Nick himself – such a letdown I could barely get through it. And that seems all wrong, as I am a huge Jeffrey Lee Pierce and GUN CLUB fan.

Whatever else he brought with him, Jeffrey definitely brought a post-punk high lonesome yodel, an individual take on modern blues gtr playing, and real kickass rhythm to nearly all his music – and those are things nobody here (ok, besides Dave Alvin and CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX) sought to muster. Seems most are content to stumble and mumble through this long set like silly little Leonard Cohen clones, and its utterly, thoroughly dreary. The end result is like one of those string quartet tributes to BLACK SABBATH – competently done and all, but missing the point entirely. Why didn’t they ask Wino or Buzzo or Bobby Leibling to get involved? I can think of dozens up to channelling Jeffrey’s manic ectoplasm better than this bunch of snoozers. Avoid.

FATSO JETSONArchaic Volumes (Cobraside, 2010) FATSO JETSON releases aren’t nearly as plentiful as their talent warrants, but thank god we now got another. Like his forefathers Greg Ginn and Joe Baiza, Mario Lalli’s riffs and leads are instantly recognisable, carving a sonic path completely his own within the ranks of modern rock n roll. A few of these tunes first appeared on their live LP from 2007, but even those numbers sound reimagined, evolved, mutated from earlier incarnations: prominent reverb, Al Kooper-like keyboards, and Vince Meghrouni’s sax & harmonica add new and previously unimagined taste sensations to FJ’s amphibious blues. I also get the feeling Mario has given new thought to the primacy of his lyrics, which culminate in the poisoned beauty that is “Monoxide Dreams”. THE MELVINS aside, no other bunch of middle-age heavy rockers still sound so invigorating to my ears in 2010. Absolutely phenomenal stuff.

DIAGONALDiagonal (Rise Above Records, 2008) It took me couple years to wake up to this one – I blame a deeply engrained distrust of prog rock for that. But I have now, in a major way. DIAGONAL play a highly ambitious form of heavy English progressive rock that harkens explicitly back to days when the wings of GENESIS and VAN DER GRAF GENERATOR spread eerie shadows over this fair island. The songs cover a vast terrain in tempo, mood, & power, highlighting not only rhythmic and instrumental prowess expected of prog bands but also surprisingly soulful performances. The recording is organic, totally eschewing the unpleasantly pro slickness that makes the modern prog scene (DREAM THEATER – barf) such a drag these days. And it should be noted that DIAGONAL don’t incorporate the extreme metal trappings this label is known for – these guys indeed are far more comfortable on a WOLF PEOPLE bill that some doom blowout. Yet another another release that completely reenergises my belief in modern English rock. Lee Dorian, release more of this kinda beauty!

JEX THOTHWitness EP (I Hate Records, 2010) Aside from Jex herself, an entirely new band from their last record is powering this thing. The slothful tunes (including a great SLAPP HAPPY number) are all morbidly beautiful, and Jex is still totally passionate about her witchy beliefs, something I get behind wholeheartedly. But somewhere along the line, a bit of the depth of sound has been lost . . . and the neanderthal primativism of the first LP has been leavened by – yikes! – a subtle Ren Fayre/reenactment vibe. All of a sudden: JEX THOTH is sounding more like a heavy version of pagan goth lifers INKUBUS SUKKUBUS than, say PENTAGRAM. This isn’t actually a bad thing; I count many goth-types as friends here in London, and solstice gatherings could really use some real rock action to liven things up a bit. I’m just wondering if this means JEX will eventually ditch their drummer for a drum machine the way with all these goth acts have now? That would be a deeply distressing, particularly stomach-churning turn of events. Don’t do it, Jex!


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.