Alternative music reviews

May 6, 2008

Sandy Richardson walks…

Filed under: nostalgia,vinyl — @ 11:02 pm Comments (0)

Hunting For The Ugly ManI started my vinyl conversion series with the Glaxo Babies so this track follows on from there. Rob Chapman was the vocalist with the Babies in their early days (on Who Killed Bruce Lee and Christine Keeler) and they went downhill fast once he had left. But Rob moved on to the Transmitters and produced this startling track on their Hunting For The Ugly Man EP.

Although often too obtuse and chaotic for their own good, everything came together for this classic track. I appreciated the railing against the mediocrity of every day life and commercialism at the time but now I’m more interested in the mention of Manchester “where people have no faces” and of course the reference to Sandy Richardson. I assume most of you have no idea who Sandy Richardson was or why he should walk. I don’t want to ruin the mystery or explain why it’s such a cute line.

The Ugly Man

The Ugly Man by The Transmitters

April 29, 2008

I Believe in Karma by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

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I Believe In KarmaThis is the second release I have been sent by Jezus Factory Records featuring Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences. It’s now sinking in that there is a maverick talent on the loose and if he’s coming to a town near you then look out – most people will want to run away but a select few will revel in this chaotic ranting (me included).

I Believe In Karma

I Believe In Karma (clip) by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

For me it’s that moment when Paul Hawkins sings “I can’t even remember how the next line goes, La La LaLa La La La” that makes this song (like that wonderful moment in School’s Out when Alice sings “I can’t even think of a word that rhymes”). The other track on the promo is the slower, more considered My Darling Frankenstein. It’s a tale of a man who has built a perfect woman (or monster as others call her) to reproduce the best of previous girlfriends such as ‘I see Serena in your movements, I see Sophie in your eyes, you’ve the same expression Claire once had when I used to tell her lies’. A twisted, funny, and perverted solution to the pain of lost love.

I won’t be lazy and just pick on the influences mentioned on MySpace – comparisons with a current figure like Nick Cave just don’t explain much. At times I think it sounds like an angry John Otway, but really the vehemence in the vocal and musical delivery is more like the sort of thing I could imagine the late, great Alex Harvey doing if he had grown up listening to Punk.

Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

April 24, 2008

Left by Black Cow

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Left by Black CowIt was quite a shock to my delicate musical constitution to start listening to this album and suddenly be confronted with harmonies from a lost age. It took me a while to believe it but there were vocal harmonies of the sort last touted by Steely Dan. Despite some lingering affection for that band’s Pretzel Logic album I was unsure I wanted to hear more of the same. I needn’t have worried, the music includes loads of alt guitar that Bob Mould would have been proud of. As the album progresses, it takes on its own special character of songs of experience and artistry.

She’s Upset by Black Cow

She’s Upset (clip) by Black Cow

The album is a labour of love that has taken many years to write and record in between “births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and piano lessons”. But this is not self-indulgence with guitar parts being added incessantly, instead there is a lightness of touch, a paring down of each track until every note is just what is needed to approach perfection. It is so beautifully put together that you have to just sit back and admire it. More importantly, you are rewarded with a stunning meld of musicianship and melody.

Black Cow on MySpace

April 23, 2008

Teenage Jesus & The Jerks

Filed under: nostalgia,vinyl — @ 11:19 pm Comments (0)

Teenage JesusOnce upon a time (76-79) in New Yok City there was Lydia Lunch. With her co-conspirators she stripped music down to its bare essentials: a beat, thrashed guitar, and a wailing vocal. The complete recordings add up to around eighteen minutes of music but the shock waves arried on for much longer.

They made Punk sound over-orchestrated and overblown. The way her voice cracks on the word “mediocrity” is still one of the finest moments in Rock music. If you take more than 82 seconds to make your point, you are just wasting everyone’s time.

Less Of Me by Teenage Jesus & The Jerks

Less Of Me by Teenage Jesus & The Jerks

April 14, 2008

Walking Through Houses by The Scaramanga Six

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Walking Through HousesTwo big reasons to mention The Scaramanga Six: a new single and I finally saw them live!

I went to The Wheatsheaf in Oxford on Friday where they were the support act so it was a bit of a curtailed set but plenty long enough to make a judgement. That judgement is this is a great live band. What the live performance added to their intense music was a sense of humour and playfulness. From the opening intro of “We have come from up North to teach you the chord of E” (which they proceeded to do) to the last moments of I Wear My Heart On My Sleeve they entertained and energised.

Towards the end a select group of people, who I recognised as being there to see the other bands, were dancing – although dancing to the Scaramangas is not that easy since they mix crescendos with silences but a valiant attempt was made and underlying rhythms were picked up on before the head twirling could begin again. It was a compliment to a band that can move you in many ways.

The latest single is Walk Through Houses. The title track reminds me of the early iLiKETRAINS singles with its prevailing sense of paranoia but with all the panache and variation that The Scaramanga Six always provide. I Can See A Murder is a near-hysterical story of a killer with Tex-Mex guitar and vocal harmonies that could have come from Phantom Of The Opera.

Walking Through Houses by The Scaramanga Six

Walking Through Houses (clip) by The Scaramanga Six

Sometimes as I listen back to the last thirty plus years of music I bemoan the fact that many bands today lack ambition and keep to a very narrow agenda and don’t explore what wonders can be done with harmonies, thunderous guitars, and changes in rhythm. No-one can ever accuse The Scaramanga Six of lacking ambition and exciting you with every musical trick in the book.

The Scaramanga Six

April 9, 2008

Magma

Filed under: nostalgia,vinyl — @ 1:07 pm Comments (0)

Magma
It was a simple beginning, in Paris 1969 a French Jazz drummer has a vision of the ecological disasters about to befall the Earth. His response: to form a Avant-Garde/Prog Rock band. The story he planned to tell over the next nine albums (three trilogies) is of a polluted and degenerate Earth who come into conflict with the planet Kobaïa who have achieved harmony with nature and technology. The singing was to be in the Kobaïan language and Christian Vander invented this making it an Eastern European sounding tongue with lots of Umlauts and hard consonants suitable for this form of Rock music.

The basic Magma sound was multilayered. First was the Jazz-influenced drumming of Christian Vander – the only candidate for world’s best drummer for those who had heard Magma. His long term collaborationist was Jannick Top who played a Fusion bass style that hadn’t been used in Rock before as far as I was aware. The quasi-Operatic singing was provided from the choral influence of the composer Carl Orff (whose music is now used in just about every advert for anything) amongst others.

For those of you too young to remember the massive over-ambitiousness of Prog then prepare yourself – it’s Jazz, Classical, Rock, Linguistic, Utopian, Ecological and Spiritual. In an age where a band can make a long-term career by adding a few Bowie vocalisms to a bit of Smith’s style guitar, be prepared to have your mind expanded. I saw them back in the early 70’s at Oxford Polytechnic in a Hall dominated by the smell of Cannabis and musty greatcoats. Amidst the smoke and strobes and whiplashed long hair, I remember the Christian Vander drum solo. It still stands as the only good drum solo I have ever heard. Physical, technical, and of such Primeval intensity that Vander’s loud groans and guttural utterings became a vocal track.

With such an extensive musical reach, it is impossible to select any one track to demonstrate the Magma effect. But on the vinyl album Üdü Wüdü I just converted to mp3 is Tröller Tanz (Ghost Dance) that shows something of their uniqueness.

Tröller Tanz by Magma

Tröller Tanz by Magma

April 1, 2008

Obliterate the Past – Van Der Graaf Generator, RNCM Manchester, March 27th 2008

Filed under: reviews — @ 11:45 pm Comments (0)

So here we are at last; the time has gone so fast and so have my dreams. I’ve been listening to the music of Van der Graaf Generator for over 30 years, and they’ve been making it, in some shape or form, for over 40. To classify them lazily (and somewhat contemptuously) as ‘Prog’ doesn’t do justice to the breadth and depth of their work. Thursday’s performance at Manchester’s RNCM (as the first date of this years European jaunt) sees a return to an intimate venue with a decent sound, and with a new album (‘Trisector’) to promote, much is anticipated.

Unfortunately there is a big hole at the centre of everything with the absence of Dave Jackson (he couldn’t make the “leap of faith” that being in VDGG demands, according to a Hammill newsletter), which means that the renditions of old favorites such as ‘Scorched Earth’, ‘Lemmings’, ‘Black Room’ (a rare outing) and ‘Man-Erg’ don’t scale the peaks of old, and I found myself mentally adding the sax parts in compensation. Nonetheless, ‘Still Life’ remains (to my mind, at least) a masterpiece, and a typically manic encore of ‘Nutter Alert’ sends the majority home happy.

However, I made my way home somewhat uneasily, no longer sure of what I expected, or what I got from the evening. Hammill and co. are much more than a soulless ‘greatest hits’ retread, but the difficulties of selecting a representative two hours from their complete recorded works result in a show that falls uncomfortably between nostalgia and an attempt to show that their contemporary output is equally valid. VDGG live remain endearingly ramshackle (Hammill still gives no indication that he has in any way mastered the guitar, although as he quips whilst re-tuning “it took a hell of a beating”) and there is a warm interaction between band and audience. When (if) they come round again, I think I’ll stay at home in a darkened room listening to ‘Pawn Hearts’. On vinyl…

Review by Big Dave

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