Tag Archives: albums

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

Standard

You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

Advertisements

The Decline Of The Flaming Lips?

Standard

You may or may not know about the latest blunder release from The Flaming Lips – yet another in their (hopefully ending soon) series of re-makes of entire LPs. They first tackled Pink Floyd‘s magnum opus “The Dark Side Of The Moon” in 2009, which featured guest appearances from Stardeath and White Dwarfs (a Lips-ish psych-rock band from their immediate area, Norman, Oklahoma – featuring Wayne Coyne‘s nephew on guitar and vocals, no less), Henry Rollins and a few others. The results seemed mixed, to me anyway – far less satisfying than the genre-hopper rock-to-reggae version by Easy Star All-Stars. The Lips have (or had) their own brand of psychedelic playfulness which didn’t seem to lend itself to Roger Waters‘s mannered observations. They followed that up few years later with a re-make of King Crimson’s classic 1969 progressive rock album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’ve not heard it yet, but The Lips were never really known for their dextrous musicianship (aside from Steven Drozd), so I’m guessing a lot of the K.C. flash has been substituted for more of a ‘mood’. They then decided to try their hands on The Stone Roses‘ debut album. I’ve heard parts of that and while some of the covers seem interesting – the youthful exuberance of Ian Brown‘s gang are transformed into melancholy dirges. Coyne and Co. sucked all the funk and swagger out of the tunes.

Now they’re back (after releasing the possible nadir of their studio records, The Terror) with another covers album, a version of one of the most iconic LPs of the rock era, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The question seems to be: does the world need another one of these? Particularly when you consider the disastrous 1978 film, featuring The Bee Gees and the much-better NME 1988 compilation, “Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father“. A bit more obscure are the “Trance Remixes“, created by someone (or collective) called Nasty Little Dog and the mash-up collection “Sgt Pepper’s Mid-Life Crisis“, released for free on the internet for the 40th anniversary of the release of the album.

In any case, The Lips gathered together the usual suspects, along with members of neo-psych bands MGMT and Foxygen and…uh…Miley Cyrus (??!!!). The record was just released this month and is getting middling reviews. A video was made ‘starring’ Cyrus and a nude blonde girl (Coyne seems big on nudity these days), for their version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It’s…interesting, but lacking in the kind of delirious hope that characterises a lot of their earlier work.

So what’s happened to a really great band? Damned if I know, but it does seem that Coyne’s had a bit of a topsy-turvy existence the past ten years or so. His parents have both passed away now and Coyne was reportedly close to both. His beef with Win Butler tarnished Coyne’s “nicest guy in rock-n-roll” image – though it wasn’t the first time he publicly trashed another front man. Remember the whole Richard Ashcroft thing, back in 1994 (and again in 2006)? He’s also split from his long-time wife, Michelle Martin (though that was first announced in 2012). To be fair to the guy, he’s had a shocker.

Still, it’s probably no surprise that his extra-cirricular activities are affecting the music of the band. Getting his Instagram accounts shut down for nudity and drug use. The whole tiff with Erykah Badu, over filming her sister nude (I see a pattern emerging) in a tub filled with glitter and corn starch for the video, for their cover of Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“. His cavorting with pop tartlets Ke$ha and Cyrus makes it seem like he’s desperate to ‘keep up with the kids’, or at the very least, courting shallow pop audiences. Luckily, the rumoured ‘Lip$ha‘ album never materialised, as that might’ve been another nail in the coffin of their credibility. Then, of course, the whopper of them all, the very public exit from the band by long-time touring, then officially studio drummer Kliph Scurlock. Scurlock initially claimed Coyne was verbally abusive and that he (Scurlock) was outraged over Coyne’s friend, Christina Fallin (daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin), wearing a Native American head-dress. Coyne hit back, calling Scurlock a ‘pathological liar’ and dismissing his hatred of a wide spectrum of bands and Lips friends. To be fair on Coyne, despite the vitriol he expressed about the split in the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview, Scurlock did a semi-reversal and issued an apology days after the story broke.

So where does all this leave the music? Well, again, “The Terror” received mixed reviews and the tracks I heard (“You Lust“, particularly) just didn’t seem to have much going on (for thirteen minutes, as well). Maybe not Lips-by-numbers, but sorta lifeless. Sure, they’re trippy – but sometimes that’s not enough to carry the album. There seems to be a lot of recycling from the past few records. The collaboration EPs, released throughout 2011, were also a bit of a disappointment, even the ones that, on paper, should work really well. Some of them were O.K., like the EP with Neon Indian, but even the best track on it, “Alan’s Theremin“, is eight minutes of a synth arpeggio and two guitar chords.

It’s tough to say where they’re going from here. Hopefully, The Flaming Lips will become more of a balanced project and not just the Wayne Coyne Experience. Sure, Steven Drozd does contribute most of the musical ideas (and musicianship), but lately it sounds as though he’s hit a wall. Michael Ivins, there from the very beginning, seems to have been sidelined in a band he co-founded. Perhaps they’ll take a looooooong break after this “Sgt Pepper’s/Fwends (yes, it actually has the word ‘fwends’ in the title)” business. Wayne may be running away from a role (imposed from outside, of course) as one of the elder statesmen of American “alternative rock”, but I don’t know, it seems like the dude needs to chill for a little bit and pull the group back from novelty and gimmicks (gummy foetuses, songs buried in skulls, cover albums, etc.). I hope they can get it together, ‘cos it’d be a shame to lose a really, really great group.

FSOL and The Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mixes

Standard

The Future Sound Of London, in 1996 and 1997, had reached the height of their popularity with the release of the Dead Cities album. A bleak, yet beautiful, collage of sampled guitar stabs and piano phrases – it seemed the culmination of what FSOL were creating the past six years. The final single from the record, We Have Explosive, was released in the summer of 1997. The fans eagerly awaited the new single from the new full-length album. Then? Well, nothing – for five years.

I’m not sure how many paid attention in August of 1997 (I didn’t) – but a radio mix was played by KISS-FM in Manchester. It was by FSOL, but instead of showcasing their latest tracks, mixed with the newest-of-the-new electronica, it featured classic psychedelic tracks by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, alongside trippy obscurities by The White Noise and Kaptain Kopter (pseudonym of the late Randy California, on a one-off LP, after he left Spirit). New tracks were featured – The Chemical BrothersThe Private Psychedelic Reel, off of the Dig Your Own Hole album, was still very new at the time. Turn On, a side-project of the Stereolab crew, was represented by Triple Cause Of Poetry, a track that was only just released when it was included on the mix.

Even the title of the mix was bound to throw off some of the faithful. A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind was definitely a statement of intention. Gaz Cobain and Brian Dougans, FSOL’s duo, had been listening to quite a bit of classic psych and decided that their music was lacking in sexiness and warmth. Cobain described the “We Have Explosive” single as “mainly a product of male energy”. They started buying loads of LPs from market stalls and boot sales, then listening for hidden gems. Collating these and adding in film dialogue and recordings of poems, the result is both an hommage to psych’s beginnings and a view forward into its future.

Cobain started feeling very ill (as a result of mercury poisoning from his tooth fillings) and thought initially it was to do with being in London. He took his FSOL earnings and jetted off to the west coast of the United States, then on to India. He slowly ran out of funds and eventually returned to the UK. After the fillings were removed, he felt much better and he and Dougans re-convened to work on new music. Cobain turned up at the Big Chill festival in August 2001, to play a DJ set. To anyone still not sure about where FSOL were headed, it was an eye-opener. Fusion-era Miles Davis mixed in with Hariprasad Chaurasia mixed into Ananda Shankar. You can listen to part of the set here.

Shortly after, in October 2001, two mixes appeared on Ammocity and XFM London – called The Mello Hippo Disco Show. These both followed the M.P.B. formula, but appeared to abandon the title. The new name was chosen from a song FSOL were working on at the time. The mixes featured some carry-overs from the first M.P.B., but included The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra and Portishead. The following summer, the long-awaited new FSOL album was released – in the guise of The Amorphous Androgynous, the boys’ ambient alter-egos. They had released Tales Of Ephidrina in 1993, presumably as a one-off, but revived the group name for the new record. Two more “Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble” mixes were broadcast in December showing that, ultimately, the “Mello Hippo Disco” moniker would be short lived.

The Isness summed up the new direction: loads of sitars, fully-formed songs, multi-part suites and ambient drones. The electronic element of their music was played-down in favour of ‘real’ instruments. It was almost like The Dukes Of Stratosphear, XTC‘s faux-1960s band they created in 1985. A lot of long-time fans were puzzled, thinking that Cobain and Dougans had finally lost the plot. I reckon most were hoping for “Dead Cities – Part II” and couldn’t fathom this sprawling psychedelic/prog excursion. A new M.P.B. mix surfaced in Deccember 2002, broadcast on James Hyman‘s The Rinse show, from XFM in London. Volume 3 contained a few Frank Zappa tracks, Leon Russell and even….Barbra Streisand (??!!). The entire mix has been uploaded to You Tube and can be found here.

The fourth volume in the series was broadcast in January 2003 on Resonance FM in  London. This one stretched to an hour and a half (much like Vol. 1) and has a decidedly Christian theme. A lot of the spoken-word samples are taken from the Trunk Records Resurrection compilation. There are tracks from “Jesus Christ Superstar“, Les Hombres, When and Magma. There’s also a snippet of “The Strawberry Statement” – the scene in the school gymnasium when the protestors are singing John Lennon‘s Give Peace A Chance. After that – it went quiet again – but in 2005, the next A.A. album, Alice In Ultraland, dropped in August. The record continued the psychedelic prog-rock direction, but the tunes were tightened up and the scope was less sprawling than “The Isness”. They also added a pastoral, folky feel to some of the songs, reminiscent of early-1970s film soundtracks like “The Wicker Man“.

M.P.B. Volume 5 made it’s debut on XFM on 14th September, 2005. Aside from showcasing a load of tunes off of “Alice..”, there are tracks from Silver Apples, Aphrodite’s Child and Vashti Bunyan. Volume 6 followed a week later – this time featuring tracks by Dead Meadow, T. Rex and The Monkees (the delightful “Porpoise Song“). I like these two mixes the most – even more than Volume 1, which is itself a brilliant mix. The song content and the spoken-word clips on Vols. 5 and 6 are blended together expertly. The flow seems fluid and seamless – no clunky moments or ill-fitting segues. Super psychedelic and all-around groovy. You can listen to Volume 5 here. In October, Gaz Cobain and Chris Margery, a member of the A.A. troupe, guested on BBC 6‘s “Six Mix”. The programme became M.P.B. Volume 7. The two mixed in some of the tunes present on past volumes, but added a few far-out new ones in, such as Secret Chiefs 3 and The Earlies. Gaz and Chris provided commentary between the tracks and phoned up their chum Gary Lucas (formerly of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator) for an impromptu interview. While not quite as exciting as the others in the series (Gaz & Chris’s chats do break up the flow of the mix), it was a good introduction to the M.P.B. concept for those who weren’t aware of it.

There wouldn’t be another M.P.B. volume (Number 8) until 2009, which was released through FSOL’s digital shop. The duo were quite busy up to that point, releasing several discs of “Archives” compilations  (under the FSOL moniker). They also released The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds Of Superconciousness, the fourth full-length Amorphous Androgynous album, in 2008. The Environments albums, which had been spoken about since the late 90s, was finally available on CD and download as well. In addition to all of that, they started a new mix series, Electric Brain Storms. E.B.S. mixes concentrated more on electronica and less on psychedelia, perhaps as a move to balance out the A.A. stuff with a return to the ‘classic’ FSOL sound.

As if that wasn’t enough – the boys had spent a couple of years getting tracks cleared for use on a compilation. The result was an official Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble 2-CD mix, released in 2008 on Platipus Records. Volume 1 was titled “Cosmic Space Music” and while it didn’t feature any of the film dialogue (which would have had to have been cleared as well) or other spoken-word snippets, the track list stayed true to the radio mixes’ format. Volume 2, subtitled “Pagan Love Vibrations”, followed a year later. “The 3rd Ear”, third in the series, was released in 2010. The first set received a huge publicity boost when, in an inteview, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, said he received it as a gift and really enjoyed it. That led to Amorphous Androgynous re-mixing Oasis’s Falling Down single (off of the ‘final’ Oasis LP, “Dig Out Your Soul”) – turning it into a 20-minute prog suite. There were announcements that A.A. and Gallagher were collaborating on a full album, but in the end, they decided the results weren’t to their liking and the project was scrapped. A.A. did end up remixing a few songs for Noel’s High Flying Birds and tracks by Paul Weller and Pop Levi. In 2012, they released a collaboration with DJ Food, called The Illectric Hoax.

The latest offerings from A.A. are The Cartel albums – sort-of mock blaxploitation/Bollywood/hippie-sploitation soundtracks. They were released last year and are available at the FSOLDigital site. A vinyl remixes LP of the Cartel material was released on Record Store Day in April of this year. There are also hints from Gaz that an Amorphous Androgynous remix EP (or full-length record) of new-ish UK psych-folk band, Syd Arthur, will be released soon.

It’s been very quiet on the Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mix front – I keep hoping Volume 9 will appear in the Pod Room for sale. They don’t tend to stay there long, due to the involved process of getting the tracks cleared. FSOL tend to operate in the guerilla fashion, in that respect. Maybe they’re getting tracks cleared for a fourth edition of the official mixes. Who can say – in the meantime, I recommend finding both the radio and official M.P.B. sets. Trippy, listenable and will turn you on to bands you hadn’t heard previously – brilliant selections of psychedelic tunes from the 60s to now.

The FSOLDigital site can be found here

Nearly complete track lists of the radio mixes can be found in this thread, at the FSOL message board, courtesy of board member “Pandemonium”.

25 Years On: Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique”

Standard

It occurred to me a few days ago that Paul’s Boutique, the second full length album from the Beastie Boys, was released twenty-five years ago. That seems pretty mind-blowing to me. The fact that it’s still referred to as a breakthrough record and a hip-hop milestone just adds to the brain-busting.

We all know the popular sequence of events – the Boys, three NYC former hardcore punkers, started listening to nascent hip-hop records and switched allegiances to the new scene. They cut a few EPs and got the attention of uber-producer Rick Rubin and Def Jam Records. Rubin helmed the sessions for their debut, Licensed To Ill, and with plenty of radio play and a high-rotation video on MTV (“Fight For Your Right To Party”), they quickly became (in)famous. The tour to support the album was dogged with controversy, though I suppose the trio didn’t do themselves any favours – such as having a giant inflatable penis on-stage (there’s a ‘Spinal Tap’ joke in there somewhere).

After the dust settled, the Boys were somewhat richer, but also viewed as frat-boy goofballs and, as Public Enemy and (in 1988) N.W.A. both claimed hip-hop’s forefront, a bit of a joke.  Tensions rose with the Def Jam honchos over contract obligations and they left Def Jam and New York, which was seen as near-treasonous at the time. Once they were set up in California at their new digs (cheekily called “The G-Spot”), they started creating demos of new jams.

Through the club party scene and hip-hop connections, the Boys met engineer/producers The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike, who would go on to produce “Paul’s Boutique”. Dike convinced them to sign with Capitol Records (which would prove fortuitous – especially with the Beatles samples used on the album). Recording sessions began in summer 1988 and continued sporadically into early 1989 – with the trio bouncing between NYC and L.A.

The tracks themselves are a psychedelic mixture of sound effects, rock/soul/reggae samples and the Boys’ own lyrics, which themselves are filled with pop-culture references, self-deprecating humour and in-jokes. As much as they’d grown since “Licensed”, they hadn’t completely ditched the juvenile hijinks – as evidenced by “59 Chrystie Street” (the first segment of “B Boy Bouillabaisse“, an extended suite which closes the album). There’s also a line in “High Plains Drifter“, “…knuckle-head Delhi tried to gyp me off the price/so I clocked him in the turban with a bag of ice…”, which wouldn’t fly too well in these overheated-PC days, I suspect.

They do balance those out with some more positive quips, like “You make the mistake to judge a man by his race/You go through life with egg on your face“, from “Egg Man” and “…get hip, don’t slip you knuckleheads, racism is schism on the serious tip…”, from “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun“. Speaking of the latter, it’s the hardest-hitting and most cacophonous track on the record. Combining the beat (though heavily compressed and flanged to throw it into overdrive) from Ocean‘s “Put Your Hand In The Hand” (ironically, a Christian-flavoured pop single from 1971) and a snippet of Pink Floyd‘s “Time” – the Boys shout lyrics about having “homeboys bonanza to beat your ass down” and going on “stolen car missions“. While you could say that they were taking their cues from P.E.’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, “Looking Down…” has it’s own fierce menace and in it’s own way, is just as bad-ass as anything put together by The Bomb Squad or Dr Dre.

The album was released in July 1989, to little fanfare. “Hey Ladies” was released as a single and had an accompanying video shown on MTV, showing the Beasties wearing funky 1970s apparel. The punters who were expecting “Fight For Your Right – Part II” were dumbfounded and were of the opinion that they’d lost the plot. The record tanked shortly after and was dismissed as a misstep.

Some, like myself, thought it was a step in the right direction and indeed, when the Boys returned in 1992 with Check Your Head, a lot of the experimental feel of “Paul’s Boutique” remained (just not as sample-heavy and a bit more stream-lined). Def Jam countered “Paul’s Boutique” with their own Beasties-lite group, 3rd Bass. Ironically, while 3rd Bass dissed the Boys on their debut record, The Cactus Album – the album seemed to be made from the same template – loads of samples interwoven into the mix. The Boys ended up having the last laugh, as 3rd Bass split after two albums and MC Serch‘s (the lead MC) solo record, released in 1992, sank without a trace.

Soon after “Check Your Head”, “Paul’s Boutique” was suddenly looked on as a force to be reckoned with. Re-appraisals appeared from the hipper quarters of rap fandom – cemented in place by the time Ill Communication was released in 1994. Ten years after it’s release date, “Paul’s Boutique” was being called a hip-hop classic and an ingenious re-invention of a group. The record fully deserves its accolades – of the ‘class of ’89’, only it and De La Soul‘s 3 Feet High And Rising showed what could be accomplished through sampling and clever rhymes.

Album review: John Sinclair – “Mohawk”

Standard

I was sent a freebie CD of John Sinclair’s newest spoken-word disc, Mohawk, courtesy of my pal and fellow M.L.A.-alumnus, Fly Agaric (or Steve Pratt, to his folks) and the good people at Iron Man Records. Going by the title, and groovy cover art (by digital artist Chu – the “Mohawk” cover seems a clever post-techno hommage to Thelonius Monk‘s “Undergroundalbum cover) – I reckoned the ‘theme’ would be one about the punk explosion in the 1970s and beyond. You see, Sinclair, for those not familiar with him, was the manager of the legendary MC5, the Detroit psychedelic rock band in their glory days. Sinclair got the ‘5 into radical politics via his own “White Panther Party“, a kind of more trippy version of the Black Panthers. The White Panthers weren’t really into setting up a state to replace the old one, they were more into free dope, fucking in the streets and just generally having a good time.

Eventually, John and the MC5 parted ways. As a result of a drug bust – Sinclair was handed a draconian sentence: 10 years in prison for selling an undercover cop two marijuana joints. A cry went out across the counterculture and with the help of luminaries like John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Abbie Hoffman, Sinclair was freed from prison. Lennon included a song with Sinclair’s name on his 1972 double-album, “Sometime In New York City”. Sinclair wrote, around the same time, a classic rock-and-roll manifesto called “Guitar Army“, which is still influential to this day.

Getting back to “Mohawk” – I indeed thought it would be about punk, which to some, meant a revitalised return to rock as rebellion in the mid-1970s, after glam and progressive and singer-songwriters and the fluff of the charts, had appeared to remove much of the sexual energy and tension from rock music. Now, I don’t agree with that assessment 100%, but that’s been the popular media image of the 70s. Many point to the MC5 and The Stooges and many other garage bands in the U.S. and the UK in the late 1960s for sparking the punk explosion, particularly the MC5’s first album, a live document of one of their intense 1968 concerts at the famed Grande Ballroom in Detroit, called “Kick Out The Jams”. Sinclair wrote the liner notes to the original pressings of the album, which were later removed by the band’s label, Elektra Records, for being ‘too controversial’.

With that in mind – my first listen to the new disc wasn’t what I expected, at all. It’s really a tribute to Sinclair’s jazz heroes, like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Monk. He spins tales of smoky jazz clubs in New York City in the 1940s and 50s – when even he was a youngster. Sinclair’s now-raspy voice suits the topic perfectly and you can almost see him in the crowd back then, marvelling at the musicians’ ability to create a new form of music almost from nothing. One track, “My Melancholy Baby“, is a touching story about a friend of John’s who lost just about everything he had in Hurricane Katrina and John remembering a visit to his friend’s house to look at a rare jazz manuscript.

The poetry readings are anything but dry and academic and Fly provides some great jazzy drum licks and double-bass phrases bouncing around the soundscape. It reminds me a lot of those great Ken Nordine albums, especially the 90s albums (released on the Grateful Dead‘s label) like “Devout Catalyst” and “Upper Limbo” and the 2001 “Transparent Mask” album, on the Asphodel label. While Ken’s voice seems a bit more lugubrious than Sinclair’s – the aim seems the same, however, trancing out on some well-written poems, which are mixed with funky backing tracks.

The album ends after 35 minutes, nice and economical and ensures that it doesn’t lose your attention. A nicely hidden bonus track then appears – a phone call from Yoko Ono and John Lennon to Sinclair on the day of Sinclair’s release from prison in 1972. It’s a great listen – everyone sounds high and Sinclair, at one point, just says “beautiful” over and over. It doesn’t feel voyeuristic listening to it, it’s a celebration.


John Sinclair’s “Mohawk” will be available from Iron Man Records on 24th March, 2014

One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

Standard

I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

Happy Autumn Equinox

Standard

We’re already into the final quarter of Gregorian calendar year 2013 – another one almost over. I admit to liking early autumn. It’s still fairly warm and the foliage on the trees looks lovely. It’s a bittersweet time of year – even though I’ve not been in school in twenty years, I still get that “summer’s over” feeling in September. You know, that ‘oh man, what a drag’ sentiment mixed with ‘but hey, a new (Gregorian) year is on the way’. Like I say, bittersweet.

Here’s one of my fave autumn tunes – it’s by the one-and-only Nick Drake. I love everything about it – the gentle finger-picked guitar chords, Drake’s melancholy-but-hopeful vocal and the lyrics. “Summer was gone and the heat died down/and Autumn reached for her golden crown…” and “Time goes by from year to year/and no-one asks why I’m standing here/but I have my answer/I look to the sky…for this is the time of no reply…” Beautiful and evocative. I often wondered what he is looking to the sky for. The space brothers? Angels? I love how he never says – I just picture him in comtemplation while the weather gets colder.

In contrast – here’s another autumn-type tune from Led Zeppelin, from their mystic-tinted fourth album. The title of the album is four symbols, representing the four members of the band. Consequently, it’s just been called “Led Zeppelin IV” or “The Symbols Album”. The song is called “Four Sticks”, allegedly because drummer John Bonham used two sets of drumsticks while playing the central beat. The main riff is a nice Page rocker, but the interesting bit is when they get to the chorus. The chords are minor, which gives a strange, haunted feel to the music. For me, it just conjures images of autumn evenings – especially with the lyrics: “When the owls fly in the night/and when the pines begin to cry..”. I still have no idea what Plant is singing toward the end. Some Tolkien-esque phrases, I reckon – something about strong shields and boots marching. Grok it in it’s fullness: