Wednesday, November 18, 2009

FIRST PAST THE 'POST': in praise of "in-between" periods in pop history
director's cut, written early 2008; published Slate, May 29, 2009

by Simon Reynolds


Pop music history is biased towards "the right place and the right time". Just like its respectable elder relative with its decisive battles and seismic elections, pop history fixates on origins and breakthroughs, magical years of transformation and turmoil, and cusp points when undergrounds go overground. It gives far less attention to those stretches of time in between the upheavals-- years of drift and diaspora, periods without an easily discernible "vibe", Zeits devoid of Geist. Geographically, too, pop historians favor major metropolises over activity out in the provinces and suburbs. Time and again they locate the motor of pop change in small cliques operating out of the capital cities (albeit cultural capitals in the case of, say, New York or Berlin) along with cities like Manchester or or Seattle or San Francisco that briefly assert themselves as the place to be.

I've been an obsessive music fan for thirty years, a "professional fan" a.k.a. critic for twenty-two of them, yet I've only ever managed to be in "the right place at the right time" once, maybe twice. Pretty poor going for someone living first in London and then in New York. But partly because of this recurrent feeling of belatedness and partly because I spent my teenage years in a suburban commuter town far from the action, I've long had the rock historical equivalent of sympathy for the underdog. But in my case it's less to do with geography (supporting regionalism) and more to do with a special interest in those expanses of pop time that gets skipped over quickly by pop chroniclers.

Makers of rockumentary series for TV are the worst offenders. It rankles a bit the way that the late Eighties (when I started to write for the UK music press) is now treated as a mere prequel to grunge. The recently aired Seven Ages of Rock series was a marked improvement on earlier TV histories of rock, which tended to jump straight from Sex Pistols to Nirvana. But its episode on US alternative rock nonetheless still presented groups like the Pixies, Dinosaur Jnr, and Sonic Youth as just preparing the ground for grunge. Respected precursors and vital influences, maybe, but ultimately--as if time's flow was somehow reversed--advance echoes of the truly epochal Nirvana. That's not how it felt at the time: Sonic Youth and the rest seemed to us full-formed significances in their own right, creative forces of monstrous power, even time-defining in their own way (albeit through their refusal of the mainstream). My Melody Maker comrade David Stubbs wrote an end-of-year oration proclaiming 1988--annum of Surfer Rosa, Daydream Nation, My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything… to be the greatest year for rock music… ever! We actually believed this and our fervor was infectious, striking an inspirational, Obama-like chord with young readers heartily sick of the idea that rock's capacity for renewal had been exhausted in the Sixties or the punk mid-Seventies. Yet that period will never truly be written into conventional history (despite efforts like Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life) because it's not got a name. It's too diverse and it's not easily characterized--for instance, the groups were "underground", except that by 1988 most of them--Husker Du, Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers-- had already signed, or soon were to sign, to majors. Finally, it'll never get fairly written into history because, dammit, grunge did happen, retrospectively recasting this period forevermore as build-up to the main event.

Being turned into a prequel isn't the only indignity that can befall one of those inbetweeny phases of rock history. The other humiliating fate is to be deemed an aftermath. Reclaiming one such period of "fall-out" was the polemical drive behind my postpunk history Rip It Up and Start Again, an attempt to challenge the perennial fixation on punk as the Big Bang and the corresponding tendency to see what came next as a scattered diminuendo, an entropic dissipation of focus and energy. Instead I wanted to recover my own lived sense of the period as not a dwindle into disparateness but as the true fruition of punk's ideas and ideals. The after-zones of rock history are hard to grasp precisely because they're so various. This rich muddle demands identifying labels that are umbrella-broad and open-ended. Hence postpunk: not a genre so much as a space of possibility, out of which new genres formed like Goth, industrial, synthpop, mutant disco, and many more.

I can think of at least a couple more "post+hyphen" terms that could usefully redraw the map of pop music history:

Post-disco. Disco is often said to have died in 1979. That's when the "disco sucks" backlash peaked with the infamous July 12th 1979 'Disco Demolition' night rally at Comiskey Park in Chicago, when thousands of disco records were blown up on the field midway between a double-header; it's the year that radio dropped the disco format en masse as opportunistically as it had jumped on the bandwagon in the first place, the year that record sales for the genre began to slide precipitously. Casablanca, disco's leading label, started to get into financial difficulties, while Studio 54, its most famous club, closed in February 1980. But people didn't stop dancing and disco music didn't vanish from the Earth. Instead, the genre mutated while the movement itself fragmented into a panoply of subscenes that appealed to specific tribes of the once united disco nation, styles like Hi-NRG (a tautly sequenced, butt-bumping sound big in the hardcore gay clubs), Freestyle (beloved by Hispanic youth in New York and Miami), Italodisco (the bastard bambini of Giorgio Moroder) and so forth. With these and other post-disco offshoots, the classic sonic signifiers of heyday mid-Seventies disco--the shuffling hi-hat driven beat, walking basslines, tempestuous string-swept orchestrations--faded away as the music became increasingly electronic, based around drum machines, sequenced basslines and synth-licks. But the torrid diva vocals endured as did disco's raison d'etre (igniting the dancefloor, providing release at the weekend) along with much of the infrastructure of a clubbing industry that disco had built during the Seventies.

Bridging the so-called death of disco and the birth of house, all this early-to-mid-Eighties music lacks a name beyond drably functional and neutral terms like 'dance' or 'club music'. Post-disco is better because this was music created by and for people--in New York, Miami, Montreal, and, if truth be known, most of the UK and Europe--who refused to accept the official decree of disco's demise. But they didn't just stick with the classic disco sound frozen forever as golden oldies; their restless demand for "fresh" forced the music to keep moving forward. It's not even that disco went completely underground. In some places, it did--Chicago, where the gay black scene would eventually hatch house music. But elsewhere post-disco sounds regular ventured into the mainstream. Take the style sometimes known at the time as electrofunk, a post-disco sound of juicy-fruit synths and nubile programmed grooves associated with New York labels like West End and Prelude, artists like Peech Boys and Sharon Redd, and producers like Arthur Baker and Francois Kevorkian. D-Train's "You're The One for Me" and the Arthur Baker-produced Rocker's Revenge tune "Walking On Sunshine" topped Billboard's Hot Dance Music chart in 1981 and 1982 respectively, while in the UK "Sunshine" was a Number 4 hit on the pop charts. Shannon's brash, crashing "Let The Music Play"--sometimes identified as the birth of Freestyle--was a top Ten US pop hit in 1983. So we're not exactly talking about some arcane crevice of pop history here, the esoteric lore of record-collectors. Moreover, the careers of Madonna, New Order and the Pet Shop Boys were largely launched off the back of ideas spawned in the post-disco era. New Order cheered themselves up after Ian Curtis's death by listening to tapes of Italodisco, further banishing the gloom on trips to New York where they checked out the clubs and holed up in their hotel rooms listening to Shep Pettibone's then-groundbreaking extended mix shows on Kiss FM. After their first real club smash, the Hi-NRGized "Blue Monday", New Order recorded "Confusion" with Arthur Baker, got DJ (and Madonna boyfriend) Jellybean Benitez to test the prototype version at the Funhouse, and, for the video, documented the Freestyle-loving Latin kids who clustered around that club.

Post-psychedelic. The reigning view of psychedelia, at least in America, is as a slightly embarrassing fad that was served notice early in 1968 when Bob Dylan released the recorded-in-two-days simplicity of John Wesley Harding. Dylan acolytes swiftly followed suit, from The Band with their equally steeped in rootsy Americana Music From Big Pink to The Byrds with their country-rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The sharp critical view to take on Sgt. Pepper's has long been that it's a pretentious mess compared to its predecessor Revolver; sharper still is the claim that Rubber Soul is better than the already-getting-quite-psychedelic Revolver. The stance is strengthened by the Beatles's own rapid retreat circa 1968 from studio-as-instrument frippery with the Chuck Berry-styled “Back In the USSR,” twelve-bar bluesy “Revolution” and gritty "Get Back". Likewise The Stones followed Their Satanic Majesties Request, their debacle attempt to match Sgt. Pepper’s, with the stripped-bare virility of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man”, while The Doors recovered their mojo with the hard bluesy Morrison Hotel. In the final year of the decade that had once hurtled full-tilt into the future and out into the cosmos, Creedence Clearwater Revival's faux-Southern rock'n'roll dominated American airwaves, while the UK was over-run with blues bores.

But just as disco never died in a lot of hearts, there were plenty of people active at the end of the Sixties and into the early Seventies who kept faith with the visions of 1967. They kept on making music that while not always blatantly trippy nonetheless took its bearings from landmark psychedelic records like Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets, The Incredible String Band's the Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Traffic's Dear Mr. Fantasy, Donovan's A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, Soft Machine's self-titled debut. I'm not just talking about the obviously out-there kosmische rock and space rock of the era (Tangerine Dream, Can, Faust, Hawkwind, Gong) but some of the maverick singer-songwriters of the early Seventies: John Martyn with his rippling after-trails of echoplex guitar, Robert Wyatt's astral scat song and tape-as-canvas daubing, Tim Buckley's zero-gravity vocal acrobatics on Starsailor. Ex-Soft Machine singer Kevin Ayers's solo career flitted between Donovan-like ditties full of quaint English charm to transcendental tapestries of guitar-flicker such as his Nico-paean "Decadence". Even certain artists we normally file under 'glam' were indelibly marked by psychedelia: Roxy Music's personnel included Brian Eno, a Syd Barrett admirer and believer in using the recording studio to create sonic phantasms, and the obviously Hendrix-damaged Phil Manzanera.

Like the after-disco and after-punk phases, this is a rich, diffuse era that suffers for the lack of a name. It's not exactly 'progressive' although at various points it overlaps the terrain we generally think of as 'prog rock', while at its other boundaries it intersects with 'folk' and 'singer-songwriter'. What unifies it more than style or sound is a shared infrastructure (the artists were mostly clustered around certain key labels--Harvest, Island, Charisma, Virgin, UA, Elektra) along with a common set of preoccupations, values and approaches: the classic 1967-style fascination for the bucolic and the child-like, a spirit of gentle and sometimes genteel experimentalism, a whimsical sense of humour tinged with melancholy. At the time people often talked of "the underground"--a nebulous concept at best, based around sensibility more than anything, but again speaking to these artists having a common departure point circa 1966-67. This underground blurred into the overground: most of the groups were on 'head'-oriented boutique imprints of major labels (Harvest for instance being a sub-label of EMI) or on large independents labels like Island that, while aesthetically autonomous and highly adventurous, relied on major label distribution. Moreover some key figures from this quasi-underground--Kevin Ayers' s former sideman Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd--would eventually release some of the biggest selling albums of the era, while never totally losing their links to their old comrades.

Post-punk, post-disco, post-psychedelic: ungainly as they are, these terms seem necessary to me, providing a handle on elusive but fertile regions of music history. Fuzzy at both temporal ends (they slow-fade into indistinction while never totally going away), they're hard to perceive as distinct eras in their own right. Their richness challenges History's fixation on the Event, the Turning Point, the Revolutionary Moment. And their diversity challenges the historian: how to locate and convey the "feel" of an era, the communality of consciousness shared by all those belated souls who lived and created under the sign of the "post-".

Afternote:

There are some other post+hyphen genres out there but to my mind they describe something quite different to the above. Take 'post-rock', a term that mysteriously emerged in the early 90s to describe experimental guitar-bands that increasingly abandoned guitars altogether (oh okay, it was me that came up with that one). But post-rock doesn't have the same temporal aspect that post-disco or post-punk have, it's not about the ripples set in motion by a galvanising Event. Rather it evokes a sense of 'going beyond' the strictures of a genre of music without completely abandoning its legacy of attitudes and assumptions. For similar reasons, the term 'post-metal' seems increasingly useful to describe the vast and variegated swathe of genres (the thousand flavors of doom/ black/death/grind/drone/sludge/ etc, ad infinitum) that emerged from the early 90s onwards. Sometimes beat-free and ambient, increasingly the work of home-studio loners rather than performing bands, post-metal of the kind released by labels like Hydra Head often seems to have barely any connection to metal as commonly understood by, say, VH1-Classic doc-makers. The continuity is less sonic but attitudinal: a penchant for morbidity and darkness taken to a sometimes hokey degree, the somber clothing and the long hair, the harrowed, indecipherably growled vocals , the bombastically verbose lyrics/song titles/ band names. It's that rather than a way of riffing or a palette of guitar sounds that ties post-metal back to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.

Monday, November 16, 2009



MANTRONIX, Music Madness (10 Records)
Melody Maker, December 6th 1986.

by Simon Reynolds


Mantronix don’t quite fit. Hip hop is getting to be more and more of an assault, more and more hyper-compressed and minimal in its search for harder and higher hits. But Mantronix are loosening up their music, bringing in a suppleness
and textural luxury. Hip hop daily exceeds new levels of megalomaniac viciousness. But Mantronix are gradually squeezing the SELF out of their music, letting the music stand on its own madness.

Compare what Mantronix are doing with a track that represents some kind of zenith in current hip hop trends--“The Manipulator” by Mixmaster Gee and The Turntable Orchestra (off Electro 14). Here skill on the turntables becomes a
twisted, bloated metaphor for omnipotence. The voice shoves itself RIGHT IN YOUR FACE--you can practically feel the spittle, smell the breath. It’s a voice intoxicated with power, quaking with rage. MC Tee from Mantronix, in comparison, has a refreshingly adolescent voice, almost sweet--words are slurred, there’s the
tiniest suggestion of a lisp. “Manipulator” style hip hop is given its impetus by being focused on the tyrannical charisma of the rapper, but with Mantronix the
raps seem almost superfluous. There are several instrumentals. With most
hip hop the very sound of the music is a MASSIVE COCK waving about in your face. Mantronix erase every trace of the pelvis, every last ditch of humanism in hip hop. Their music isn’t weighted down by the heaviness of masculinity, but glides, skips, even frisks at times, rather than thuggishly stomping us weaklings underfoot. Mantronix sound disembodied, dislocated, out-of-it.

They are far out, a long way from firm ground. Mantronik marshals a host of uprooted fragments and abducted ghosts into a dance. He thieves indiscriminately, without prejudice, enlisting anything from Benny Goodman to The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune. On “We Control the Dice” they even indulge in self-kleptomania (or perhaps simple thrift is at work), re-using the bass motif from “Bassline”. Their greatest influence, though, is European electropop--the scrubbed, spruce, pristine textures and metronomic precision of Kraftwerk and Martin Rushent’s Human League. While the brainy British bands of the day dedicate themselves to noisy guitars, it’s up to Mantronix (and House music) to uphold the spirit of 1981, to cherish the bass sound and the electronic percussion of “Sound of the Crowd” as a lost future of pop.

They have moments close to wildness-“Big Band B-Boy” commandeers a jungle of percussion--but I prefer it when Mantronix sound stealthy. “Scream,” with its curiously muted delivery of a party-up lyric (the word “scream” is almost whispered) is as eerie as Suicide lullabies like “I Remember” or “Cheree”. The title track has a roaming, furtive sense of space, the phrase “music madness” sampled, stretched and
melted into a series of beautiful belches. Best of all is the closing “Megamix”, in which everything you’ve been listening to for the last half-hour is regurgitated inside out and upside down, flashing before your ears like a drowned, garbled life. Sublime pandemonium.

Music Madness is the kind of music you’d hoped The Art of Noise would go on to make after “Close (to the Edit)”. Fleshless, soulless, faceless and fantastic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

DFA and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: label and band profile
Groove, 2005

by Simon Reynolds



For the last three years, DFA has been on a mission to make New York City live up to its own legend--"to be what it should be," as the label's co-founder James Murphy puts it. DFA's spiritual ancestors are early Eighties Manhattan labels like ZE, 99 and Sleeping Bag, pioneers of sounds like "punk-funk" and "mutant disco" that mixed dance culture's groove power with absurdist wit, dark humor and rock'n'roll aggression. The DFA sound flashes back to times and places when NYC's party-hard hedonism seemed to have both an edge and a point--Mudd Club, Hurrah's, Danceteria, Paradise Garage--but it rarely feels like a mere exercise in retro-pastiche.

The label's initial batch of vinyl-only singles in 2002--most famously "House of Jealous Lovers" by The Rapture and "Losing My Edge" by LCD Soundsystem--resurrected the idea of dance music spiked with punk attitude. Before long everybody was clamoring for a dose of DFA cool. Murphy, 34, and his English-born partner Tim Goldsworthy, 32, were touted as Superproducers, indieland's equivalent to the Neptunes. "Yeah I was the punk-funk Pharrell Williams," laughs Murphy. "Which makes me Chad, I guess" adds Goldsworthy.

Janet Jackson phoned DFA and suggested collaborating, saying she wanted to do something "raw and funky" like "Losing My Edge." Amazingly, DFA sorta kinda forgot to follow up the call. Duran Duran were also interested in getting DFA's magic touch. Most surreally, Goldsworthy and Murphy spent an afternoon in the studio with Britney Spears. "That was weird," says Goldsworthy. "Won't do that again. No offence to her--she's lovely. Got a foul mouth, though!" The brief session came to nothing, through lack of common musical ground. "When we work with people, we hang out, listen to records, share stuff," says Murphy. "But with Britney we soon discovered we had absolutely no way of communicating. She didn't know anything that we
knew. I was excited when the idea was first broached, because I thought maybe there's something Britney wants to do, and it's fucking burning a hole in her, and we can find out what it is. And the collaboration could be embarrassing, a failure, but that's fine. But I think she's someone that's very divorced from what she wants to do, there's been a set of performance requirements on her for such a long time, such that how would she even know what she wanted to do? And we never had time to found out anyway, because it
was like, 'she's available for four hours on Wednesday, write a song'. There's no way you can kid yourself you can make something real in those circumstances."

After these lost encounters with "the big time", DFA consciously backed away from the opportunities being thrust their way. "You stop returning phone calls, people get bored of you real quickly!" laughs Murphy. Instead, they concentrated on building up their own operation. The stance is bearing fruit now, with a freshly-inked global distribution deal between DFA and EMI. The first release under this new arrangement was the recent and highly impressive three-CD collection of DFA works so far, Compilation #2. It’s now followed by the brilliant debut album from LCD Soundsystem, which is James Murphy's own group.

Murphy and Goldsworthy originally met in inauspicious circumstances, as hired help for Irish deejay/producer/soundtrack composer David Holmes, who
was making his Bow Down To The Exit Sign album in Manhattan. Murphy did the engineering, Goldsworthy did the programming. The location was Murphy's West Village of Manhattan recording studio (now DFA's basement sound-lab). It didn't take long for the two technicians to suspect they were making most of the creative decisions. "Tim and I were forced to create a dialogue about how to
make sounds, because there was just this vague cloud of ideas coming from Holmes," says Murphy, gesturing to the back of the studio, where Holmes sat during the recording process. "Tim and I found we could talk about the most
subtle sonic things. Say, with Suicide, we could talk about the space between the two different organ sounds, or the lag between the organ playing and the drum machine beat, the way the two instruments don't lock together. Or we could talk about how earnest Alan Vega's Elvis-like vocal performance is, and how could we get that same quality out of the bass--a feeling that's earnest and embarrassing but saved by being actually totally for real."

Taking breaks from the recording grind, Goldsworthy and Murphy bonded further during Saturday night missions of full-on clubbing. Which is when Murphy, hitherto a typical indie-rock guy, had his dance music E-piphany. "Yeah, it's an unheard of story, isn't it?" he laughs. "A person who only
listens to rock goes off, does a mountain of Ecstasy, and gets converted to dance music".

The same thing had happened to Goldsworthy over a decade earlier, as an indiepop fan who got swept up in the UK's Ecstasy-fueled acid house revolution circa 1988. "I went from wearing an anorak and National Health spectacles into shaving my head and dancing in a field for eight hours!" In
the Nineties, Goldsworthy, like a lot of people, followed a vibe shift towards more chilled-out drugs (heavy weed) and moody, downtempo sounds, picking up especially on the music coming out of the early Nineties Bristol scene (very near where he grew up in the West of England). With his
schoolfriend James Lavelle, Goldsworthy co-founded the trip hop label Mo Wax, whose whole aesthetic owed a huge amount to Massive Attack's epochal 1991 album Blue Lines. Goldsworthy and Lavelle also made atmospheric and
increasingly over-ambitious music as the pivotal core of
UNKLE, a sort of post-trip hop supergroup that called upon diverse array of collaborators (ranging from DJ Shadow to Radiohead's Thom Yorke) on albums like Psyence Fiction. It's this background in "soundtrack for a non-existent
movie" music that led to Goldsworthy becoming the programming foil for David Holmes. Which ultimately led to him coming to Manhattan and meeting Murphy.

Goldsworthy had been through the whole dance culture experience and, like a lot of people, grown sick and tired of it. Murphy, a die-hard indie-rock/punk-rock guy, had always "loathed dance music. I thought it was all disco or C& C Music Factory. I didn't know anything about it and didn't
want to know anything about it. I'd really come up through the Pixies, the Fall, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and all the Chicago noise punk stuff like Big Black." And in truth, when the two of them went out clubbing in New York while working on the Holmes record, there wasn't much going on in dance culture to counter either Goldsworthy's disillusion or Murphy's prejudice. The Manhattan scene was moribund. Goldsworthy had come to New York, a city that loomed large in his imagination because of hip hop and house, with high
expectations and was very disappointed. "I was shocked, it was so bad. You couldn't dance anywhere," he says, referring to Mayor Bloomberg's crackdown
on bars that had DJs spinning but didn't have the expensive "cabaret license" that nightclubs need to get to make it permissible for their patrons to wiggle their butts in time to the music. "It was fucking awful."

Beyond the specific malaise of Manhattan clubland, dance music at the close of the Nineties was going through a not very compelling phase. It was neither pushing fearlessly forward into the future with huge leaps of innovation like it had done for most of the Nineties, nor did it have that
edge-of-anarchy madness that characterized the rave scene in its early days. The superclubs were slick and soul-less. And technique-obsessed and genre-purist DJs had squeezed out an awful lot of vibe. By the start of
the new millennium, the new generation of hipster youth in New York and London had little interest in club culture, which seemed safe, passe and altogether lacking in cutting-edge glamour. These young cool kids were looking to guitar bands again, groups with stage moves and charismatic hair,
from the Strokes to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Murphy and Goldsworthy decided to rescue dance music from "McDepth--that McDonald's version of 'deep', where there's nothing there", Murphy explains. The duo cite everything from glitchy laptop musicians to Tortoise-style
post-rock to post-Blue Lines Massive Attack as examples of bogus profundity, chin-stroking pretentiousness, and terminal boredom. Revealingly, Murphy's MDMA revelation didn't occur listening to whatever passed for an Ecstasy
anthem in those days (Rolando's "Jaguar," say). No, the DJ dropped The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows"--one of his all-time favorite tunes--at exactly the point "when the drug was peaking" in his nervous system. And that gave Murphy the idea of "throwing parties and playing better music--like "Loose" by the Stooges--than what dance culture was offering at that time". Taking the name DFA--short for Death From Above, and originally the tag under which Murphy did infamously loud sound mixing for rock bands--they started throwing irregular parties in New York, based around the notion of bridging the considerable gap between Donna Summer and The Stooges. Soon, tired of endlessly playing their staple fare like Can and Liquid Liquid, the duo decided to make their own "dance-punk" tracks to spin.

"House Of Jealous Lovers" was their first stab. Dance distributors picked up the single purely for the house remix by Morgan Geist from cognoscenti-approved outfit Metro Area. "We'd heard his track 'Atmosphreak' and thought it was amazing," recalls Murphy. "One of the Rapture's friends,
Dan, was room mates with Morgan, and so we asked if he'd do a remix and he very kindly did one really cheap. It was only because of Morgan's remix that anyone took it--the dance distributors would often identify it in their orders as being by Morgan Geist." Ironically, and fatefully, it was DFA's original discopunk version that eventually took off.

"House of Jealous Lovers" arrived with perfect timing to catch the breaking wave of dancefloor taste shift towards edgy angularity--not just the rediscovery of Eighties groups like ESG and A Certain Ratio, but the emergence of neo-postpunk bands like !!!, Liars, Erase Errata, and Radio
Four (whom DFA also produced). But while The Rapture's slashing guitar and slightly-constipated, white-boys-getting-down funk bass flash you back to 1979 and UK agit-funk outfits like Gang of Four and Delta 5, Murphy &
Goldsworthy's production supplied the kind of pumping, monolithic regularity that made the track fully contemporary. "There were indie bands already
coming through doing that kind of rickety, Delta 5-style punk-funk, but we wanted to make records that house DJs would actually play," says Murphy. "We had a big talk with The Rapture about that Mr Oizo track 'Flat Beat', the
bassline in that tune. In 2000, when we were making 'House of Jealous Lovers', 'Flat Beat' was just about the only dance track around that was memorable. It was a tune you could remember, it fucked killed on the dancefloor, and it had incredible low end. So our attitude was, 'Jealous
Lovers' has to compete in that context. So we filtered the bass a lot, did a couple of layers of hi-hats and reversed them, took the drummer's playing and chopped it up." The drummer himself came up with the cowbell, which
eventually became a kind of DFA trademark. "House of Jealous Lovers" became a huge success on all kinds of different dancefloors. Some commentators regard it as the best single of the decade so far. It's certainly one of the most significant.

DFA's signature sound mixes Goldsworthy's computer wizardry and Murphy's background of engineering and playing in rock bands (DFA's remixes typically
feature his drumming, bass, and sometimes guitar). Two different kinds of knowledge mesh perfectly: Murphy's expertise at getting great drum sounds and capturing live "feel", Goldsworthy's digital editing skills and vast
sample-hound's knowledge of recorded music acquired during his Mo Wax days. Both guys look their respective parts. Slender, softspoken, and diffidently English in a way that often, he says, gets him mistaken for gay, Goldsworthy
seems like someone at home with delicate, intricate work--a century ago, you might have assumed from his intent, bespectacled gaze and fastidious manner that he was an engraver or watch-maker. Wearing a Taos ski resort T-shirt
and brown corduroy pants, the slightly pudgy and much more boisterous Murphy looks like your archetypal American indie-rock studio rat.

After a low-key spell in late 2003/early 2004--a steady flow of fine but not exactly throat-grabbing releases, from The Juan Maclean, Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom, and Black Dice--DFA came back strong in the last few months of 2004 with two of their most exciting singles yet. Pixeltan's "Get Up/Say What" is classic DFA discopunk, simultaneously raw and slick, while "Sunplus" by J.O.Y.--a Japanese outfit helmed by K.U.D.O, Goldsworthy's Tim 's former partner in UNKLE, and featuring guest vocals from Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms--beautifully updates the thorny, fractured postpunk funk of LiLiPUT and The Slits. Like most DFA releases, these tracks came out as vinyl 12 inches. But don't fret if you've got no turntable--you can also find them on Compilation #2. Attractively packaged with the label’s trademark minimal design, the box set pulls together everything that wasn't on their first, not wholly satisfactory compilation, throws in a terrific bonus mix CD executed by Tim Goldsworthy and Tim Sweeney, and altogether
showcases a formidable body of work. Two highlights are Liquid Liquid's "Bellhead," a brand-new DFA recording of an old song by one of their Eighties postpunk heroes, formerly on the legendary 99 Records label, and the 15 minute disco-delic journey-into-sound that is "Casual Friday" by
Black Leotard Front (an alter ego for Gonzalez and Russom).

And now there’s the second release under the global distribution deal with EMI, the debut album from LCD Soundsystem, which people are already talking about as a contender for best album of 2005. In the studio, LCD is basically a James Murphy solo project with occasional help from friends who drop by, and some spiritual guidance from Goldsworthy. Live, though, LCD swells into a proper band, and a surprisingly powerful one, its sheer rock-funk force bringing to mind at various points Happy Mondays, the Lo-Fidelity Allstars, and The Stooges gone disco.

Released not long after “House Of Jealous Lovers”, LCD’s debut single “Losing My Edge” was the first indication that DFA weren’t just a pair of capable remixers, but that there was in fact a whole sensibility, aesthetic, and ethos behind the label, as well as a groovy retro-nuevo sound. Sung by Murphy, the song is the plaint of a cool hunter type--a musician, or DJ, or record store clerk, or possibly all three--who’s agonizingly aware that he’s slipping, as younger kids outdo his esoteric knowledge with even more obscure reference points. “I'm losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978,” the character whines. “To the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties”. The aging hipster’s claims of priority and having been first-on-the-block get more and more absurd: “I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City/I was working on the organ sounds with much patience… I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids/I played it at CBGB's… I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan/I was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes/I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.”

As well as being a hilarious auto-critique of hipsterism, “Losing My Edge” obliquely captured something of the pathos of the modern era. All this massive ever-accumulating knowledge about music history, the huge array of arcane influences and sources available thanks to the reissue industry and peer-to-peer filesharing, all the advantages we have today in terms of technology and how to get good sounds, have resulted in a kind of a kind of crisis of “well made” music, where producers are scholars of production, know how to get a great period feel, yet it seems harder and harder to make music that actually matters, in the way that the music that inspired them mattered in its own day. “Record collection rock” is my term for this syndrome, although the malaise is just as prevalent in dance culture (look at the perennial return of the 303 acid bass, each time sounding more exhausted and unsurprising).

“Losing My Edge” was very funny, but also poignant. Murphy agrees. “It’s incredibly sad. It took people a while to pick up on that. At first they were like, ‘ha! You got ‘em’, like it was just a satire on hipsters. What’s truly sad, though, is that the initial inspiration for it was from my deejaying in the early days of DFA, playing postpunk and an eclectic mix of dance and rock. And suddenly everybody started playing that kind of mixture, and I thought ‘fuck, now it’s a genre and I’m fucked, I’m not going to get hired’. My response was, “I was doing this first,” and then I realized that was pathetic, that I was this 31 year old hipster douchebag. So at the end of “Losing My Edge,” that’s why there’s the long list of bands-- Pere Ubu, Todd Terry, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, Heldon, Gentle Giant, the Human League, Roy Harper, Sun Ra, on and on--‘cos in the end that’s what my attitude reduced to, just running around trying to yell the names of cool bands before anybody else!”. He says that a big part of DFA’s attitude is that “we definitely try to shoot holes in our own cool as fast as we can, because being cool is one of the worst things for music.” He cites DFA’s disco-flavored remix of Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” as an example, its softness representing a deliberate swerve from the obvious punk-funk sound that DFA were known for.

“Beat Connection”, the even more impressive flipside to “Losing,” was also a meta-music statement, with Murphy accusing everyone on the dancefloor of colluding in lameness. “Everybody here needs a shove/Everybody here is afraid of fun/It’s the saddest night out in the USA/Nobody’s coming undone.” He explains that this was inspired by his and Goldsworthy’s experience of the “really uptight” New York club scene at the tail-end of the Nineties. When Murphy compares his lyrical approach to The Stooges--“really simple, repetitive, quite stupid”--he hits it on the nail. “Beat Connection” is dance culture’s counterpart to The Stooges 1969 classic “No Fun.” Which was probably the very first punk song--indeed the Sex Pistols did a brilliant cover version of it.

When people talk about LCD Soundsystem and DFA, though, the word that comes up isn’t punk rock so much as postpunk--Public Image Ltd (the band John Lydon formed after the Pistols broke up), Gang of Four, Liquid Liquid, etc. Murphy originally got into this era of music when he was working as sound engineer and live sound mixer for Six Finger Satellite, an abrasive mid-Nineties band who were precocious--indeed premature--in referencing the postpunk period well before it became hip again circa 2001. In a 1995 interview with me, Six Finger Satellite were already namedropping late Seventies outfits like Chrome and This Heat. They also recorded an all-synth and heavily Devo-influenced mini-album, Machine Cuisine, as a sideline from their more guitar-oriented, Big Black-like albums. “Going on tour with Six Finger Satellite was one of those super fertile times in my life in terms of finding out about music,” recalls Murphy. “They were like ‘do you know about Deutsche Amerikanishce Freundschaft? Do you know about Suicide?’, and they dumped all this knowledge on me while we were driving around the country from gig to gig. This was a few years before I met Tim, which was itself another very fertile and immersive period in terms of new music.” The Six Finger Satellite connection endures. DFA act The Juan Maclean is actually Six Finger guitarist John Maclean, making Kraftwerk-like electronica.

“Losing My Edge” b/w “Beat Connection” was followed by two more excellent LCD singles, “Give It Up” b/w “Tired” and “Yeah” (which came in a “Crass version” and a “Pretentious Version” and managed to make the 303 acid-bass sound quite exciting, against all the odds). These six early single tracks are collected on the bonus disc that comes with the debut LCD Soundsystem album. Running through a lot of the CD--particularly songs like “Movement” and “On Repeat”-- is that same meta-musical rage you heard in “Losing” and “Beat”: a poisoned blend of a desire for music to be revolutionary and dangerous, along with a defeatist, crippled-by-irony awareness that the age of musical revolution may be long past. “Movement,” the single, fuses the sentiments of “Losing My Edge” and “Beat Connection”, with Murphy surveying the music scene and pointing the finger--“it’s like a culture, without the effort, of all the culture/it’s like a movement, without the bother, of all of the meaning”--and then confessing to being “tapped”, meaning exhausted, sapped of energy and inspiration. Although the sentiment could apply just as equally to dance culture, Murphy says the song is specifically a reaction to all the talk of guitar rock making a comeback, “all the inanity that gets bandied about as rock journalism. It’s a complete rip of fashion journalism--‘the high waisted pant is BACK’. Like that's supposed to mean something. I mean, I hope you don't go around hearing ‘abstract expressionism is BACK! and HOTTER than EVER!’ in art mags.”

“On Repeat” is yet another LCD song about the ennui that comes when you’re been into music for a long time: the awareness of the cycles repeating, the eternal return of the same personae and poses, archetypes and attitudes, reshuffled with slight variations. “That attitude is where I’m coming from all of the time,” says Murphy. “The lyric referring to ‘the new stylish creep’--that’s me! The song is about hating what you are, and that giving you strength to hate everything else. It's weird. I love music so much that I want to drown it forever. Destroy everything.”

You can hear these conflicted emotions in Murphy’s singing voice. It has a weird tetchy texture that evokes a mixture of exasperation and fatigue, sounds at once spirited and dispirited. Murphy says that’s an accurate reflection of how he feels when he’s recording vocals. “It murders me. I hate hearing my own stupid voice in the headphones, with all the singerly bits and false poses. I sometimes have to sing things over and over until I hate the song, until there's no posy vocal bits in there that make me cringe. That song, ‘On Repeat,’ in particular was hell to do. But in the end I like it. Or at least I feel like I can stand behind it”. In terms of that frayed, worn-out quality to LCD vocals, Murphy says “I usually compress the shit out of the vocal with a VCA
compressor, which is really brutal. And I try to mix them so that the frequencies are like "Mother of Pearl" by Roxy Music or "Poptones" by PiL”.

Yet for all the lyrical and vocal notes of disillusionment and frustration running through LCD Soundsystem, the music itself is full of exuberance and playfulness, a delight in the sheer pleasures and possibilities of sound. “Too Much Love,” which seems to be a song about drug burn-out and excessive nocturnal socializing, features an awesome grating synth-whine that makes me think of a serotonin-depleted brain whimpering on the Tuesday after a wild weekend. Another standout track, “Disco Infiltrator” nods to Kraftwerk with its imitation of the eerie synth-riff from 1980’s “Home Computer.” It’s not a sample but a recreation, says Murphy. “It just an ascending chromatic scale, really. It's not rocket science!” The track also features some sweet semi-falsetto singing from Murphy that sounds like David Byrne circa Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. “It's just my shitty soul voice,” laughs Murphy. “Al Green has a beautiful soul, so that's what you hear coming through in his voice. My soul is absolute rubbish, so that's what comes out!”

The closing “Great Release” seems like a homage to Brian Eno’s song-based albums like Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Another Green World. “Actually, it’s Here Comes the Warm Jets-era Eno,” laughs Murphy. “It’s not a homage, though--I hate that word. No, I just like the type of energy that some Eno/Bowie stuff got, and some of the space of Lou Reed stuff, like ’Satellite of Love’. Some journalist got kind of stroppy with me about that song, and all I could think was, ‘is there seriously some problem with there being too many songs that use sonic spaces similar to early Eno solo work? I mean, is this really something we
need to talk about before it gets out of control?!?’”. I WISH I had that problem. Or is the problem just me--that I'm not being original enough? Because if it is, then let's just dump rock in the fucking ocean and call it a day, because I'm doing the best I can for the moment!”

Best of all is “Thrills,” in which Murphy comes off like Iggy Pop singing over a track that fuses The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” with Suicide’s “Dance,” over a fat bassline not a million miles from Timo Maas. Actually, Murphy says, the inspiration for the bass-and-percussion groove is Missy Elliott's “Get Yr Freak On”. “I made the original version of ‘Thrills’ right when that came out. I loved that era of mainstream hip hop, it was a free-for-all. And just the bass of it.”

Of course, all these comparisons and reference points only underscore the point I earlier made in reference to “Losing My Edge”: the poignancy of living in a “late” era of culture, the insurmountable-seeming challenge of competing with the accumulated brilliance of the past and creating any kind of sensation of new-ness. “Yeah, that is kind of tattooed on my stomach,” says Murphy, referring to this pained awareness of belatedness. He acknowledges that “great influences do not a great record make”. And yet despite all the odds, the LCD album is a great record.

When I mention the American literary critic Harold Bloom’s concept of “anxiety of influence”--which argues that “strong” artists suffer from an acute sense of anguish that everything has been done before, and that makes them struggle against their predecessors in a desperate Oedipal attempt to achieve originality--Murphy flips out. “It's hilarious that you say this--I mention Bloom's anxiety theory pretty regularly in interviews! This is the shit I've been screaming about for years. Learning and progress has always been based on learning from the past. Real originality never comes from trying to defeat the past right out of the gate. It's a spark of an individual idea caused by the love/hate relationship between a "listener" and the "sound". I love music, and it inspired me at first to copy it, then to be ashamed of copying it, then to make music in "modes" (genres) while trying to pretend they were original, then finally making music with a purpose--which for me was dance music. It made people dance. It was no longer just music to make you look cool and feel like you were part of something you admire.

“I don't feel like I'm in any danger of making ‘retro’ music, but at the same time, there are things about the ways various people who've come before me did things
that I prefer greatly to the way ‘modern’ things are done. I use a computer. I edit and do all sorts of modern shit, but there are things I consciously do that were done in songs I love from before me.”

As much as love, though, it’s hate that inspires LCD Soundsystem in equal measure. “I hate the way bands stand on stage, the gear they use, the crew they hire to tune their tedious guitars, the love they have for their special ‘guitar amp, the belief in their fragile, phoney little singer who's a fucking sham. They are not and will never be Iggy Pop. Neither will I, or my band, but we know it, and we're trying our fucking best to be the LCD Soundsystem. Complete with its laundry list of influences, failures and idiocies. At least you go onstage knowing that, good or bad, no one is like you.”

* * * * *

Many labels never survive the initial hype storm of being hip. Murphy recalls a peculiar, uncomfortable phase when "we kept seeing magazines with profiles of DFA, but we weren't really releasing anything at the time." Now,
though, he's thankful that "we're not ascendant anymore. At this point we're kind of cruising along. And it's nice. It doesn't feel like it's out of our control anymore."

And what about New York, the city whose mythos is so central to DFA? Is it living up to its own reputation at the moment? "It's a great city, but people get lazy here," says Murphy. "So we and a few other people we think
of as allies, we go into phases of trying to punch the city into being interesting, Then we go home for a couple of months and hang out with our wives and cook. And then it's like, 'okay, time to go out punching again'. And it's getting to be about that time again. For a while, we were like 'oh fuck them, let them live in their filth of terrible parties, shitty DJs, just doing the same thing'. See I can't go to these parties where people play records that are sent to them by promoters 'cos they're genre djs, part of a genre. I've always loathed that. And then I found myself in that situation again," Murphy sighs, referring to the way DFA gets lumped together with Black Strobe and Trevor Jackson of Playgroup/Output, the way genre-crossing becomes its own kind of genre. "That's not what I signed up
for, you know? I didn't leave indie rock to end up back in indie rock!"

Monday, November 2, 2009

TRICKY's MAXINQUAYE in SPIN'S BEST ALBUMS OF THE NINETIES
Spin, 1999
by Simon Reynolds

TRICKY, Maxinquaye (Island, 1995)


Although all but one of its tracks were recorded in London, Maxinquaye has everything to do with Tricky's home town Bristol, the west of England port whose
bohemian milieu of Brit B-boys and post-punk radicals spawned Massive Attack,
Portishead, and the Reprazent clan. "In Bristol, all the different ghettos were mixing in the early Eighties," says Mark Stewart, ex-frontman of legendary avant-funk outfit The Pop Group. "We'd go to reggae 'blues' parties, industrial punk events, and hip hop jams at this crucial club called The Dugout."

Through his friendship with The Wild Bunch (the DJ collective that evolved into
Massive Attack) Stewart became a mentor to Tricky. It was Stewart who first pushed
Tricky onstage and who encouraged him to start a career outside Massive. "He's my
chaos," says Tricky. "When people say I'm weird, I say 'you've got to hang around Mark'. He lives out of a suitcase which contains, like, a jar of mayonnaise, cassettes, and articles clipped out of magazines. He lived with me for two months and got me chucked out of my flat!" It was while they were rooming together that Stewart persuaded Tricky to "blag" money off Massive Attack's management for solo recording. "His idea was to spend half of it on drink!", laughs Tricky. The remaining 300 pounds paid for studio time for "Aftermath", a downtempo drift of "hip hop blues" that eventually became Tricky's debut single.

With Stewart operating as "executive producer" (as Tricky puts it), "Aftermath" came together haphazardly. Stewart remembers the session as "just me and Tricks
messing about on an 8 track," looping beats and weaving in samples that Tricky plucked from "some guy's pile of records". Outside his house, Tricky met Martina Topley-Bird--a schoolgirl in uniform, waiting for a bus--and on impulse invited her to sing. "I laid down a guide vocal for her, but we decided to keep my voice in, 'cos it sounded haunting." This slightly out-of-synch pairing of Martina's dulcet croon and Tricky's bleary rapping became the model for much of Maxinquaye. There was a fourth collaborator on "Aftermath",claims Tricky--he believes the post-apocalyptic scenario lyrics were channeled from his mother, who died when he was four. "I found out later that she used to write words, poetry, but never showed them to anybody."

Tricky offered "Aftermath" to Massive, who were still pulling together their 1991
debut Blue Lines. But, chuckles Tricky, the band's 3D "told me 'it's shit, you're never going to make it as a producer". "Aftermath" stayed on cassette for three years,unreleased; Tricky fell out of touch with Topley-Bird. After Blue Lines's release, Tricky was in limbo, idling on a retainer wage from Massive. "All I did was smoke weed, drink in bars, and go to clubs from Wednesday to Sunday." He sank into a slough of despond, complete with marijuana-induced paranoid hallucinations of demons in his living room.

This dark period inspired Tricky's next recording, "Ponderosa" and its lyrics about
an alcohol-and-spliff induced descent through "different levels of the Devil's company". Underpinned by a clanking, lurching percussion influenced by Indian bhangra,"Ponderosa" was one of several tracks demoed in London with engineering wizard Howard Bernstein (a/k/a Howie B), courtesy of Island Records. "Tricky was living with me and my girlfriend Harriet for a while," remembers Bernstein. "Kippers for breakfast, and Tricky kipping on a couch in the front room." Hospitable Howie believed he was all set to be a partner in the album project, should Island decide to sign Tricky. But management conflicts resulted in a "a legal nightmare" and left almost an album's worth of tunes stranded on the shelf. Although "Ponderosa" did clinch the Island deal, Bernstein was not included and "walked away with a sour taste in my mouth."

Tricky, meanwhile, bought a home studio and started work on the album in a grim
area of London called Harlesden, where he and Topley-Bird were ensconced as house
mates, although they barely knew each other. Aggravating his desolate surroundings and the alienation caused by moving from his hometown Bristol to a city where he had no friends, Tricky was listening to a relentlessly glum soundtrack-- The Geto Boys, Billie Holliday, and The Specials. The "concrete bleak sound" of Specials classics such as "Ghost Town" is just one thread in the Maxinquaye tapestry. Alongside the obvious hip hop ancestry (Eric B & Rakim's cinematic rap noir; Public Enemy--Tricky hailed Chuck D as "my Shakespeare"), the album is steeped in the influence of English art-rock weirdness ---Bowie, Numan, Japan, Peter Gabriel, and Kate Bush ("I think she's in the same league as John Lennon," Tricky gushes). Even more unlikely, Tricky claims that the gorgeous aural malaise of "Abbaon Fat Tracks" got its curious title because "it reminded me of Abba--but fucked up, and with phat beats."

An enigmatic tribute to his mother Maxine Quaye, the album's title was originally
intended as Tricky and Martina's collective bandname until the rapper capitulated to
Island's pressure and agreed to record under his nom de mic'. Released in 1995 to massive acclaim, Maxinquaye works simultaneously as an autobiographical account of one man's struggles and as a wider allegory. Evoking the orphanned drift, sociocultural deadlock, and pre-millenial tension of the Nineties just as Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On had expressed the caged rage and curdled idealism of the early Seventies, Maxinquaye seemed to be partly about the inability of Tricky's generation to imagine utopia, let alone build it.

"We're all fucking lost!", Tricky declared. "I can't see how things are gonna get better. I think we have to destroy everything and start again. But I can't pretend I've got the answers. Bob Marley, he could write songs about freedom and love. I'm just telling the truth that I'm confused, I'm paranoid, I'm scared, I'm vicious."
Yet for all its despondency and dread, Maxinquaye is ultimately a redemptive experience.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

GENE CLARK
No Other
(Edsel)
Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds


ROBBIE ROBERTSON
Robbie Robertson
(Geffen)
Melody Maker, 1987

by Simon Reynolds




THE BAND
Stage Fright / Moondog Matinee / Northern Lights - Southern Cross / Islands
(Capitol)
Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds






2009 update: I wouldn't bother with any of them to be honest, The Band is the only one you really need. Even Music From Big Pink--a bona fide Classic, "epochal", incredibly influential, etc--seems dispensible to me, pales next to eponymous. With the exception of "The Weight", there's something creaky and strained about it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

ARTHUR RUSSELL
"Let's Go Swimming"
Singles Column, Melody Maker, October 11th 1986

by Simon Reynolds





ARTHUR RUSSELL
The World of Arthur Russell
(Soul Jazz)
Uncut, 2003

by Simon Reynolds


It’s an unlikely story: Avant-garde cellist sees the light in a disco glitterball at New York gay club The Gallery and decides disco is the ultimate modern format for exploring minimalist composition. In the mid-Seventies, Russell--conservatory-trained, a scholar of Eastern music forms, steeped in the ideas of Steve Reich and Terry Riley--was blown away by the engulfing quality of music transmitted over a massive club sound system and literally entranced by disco’s use of repetition.
Over the next decade, collaborating with New York’s leading DJ/remixers and recording engineer Bob Blank, Russell produced a series of captivatingly quirky 12 inches under a variety of aliases--Dinosaur L, Indian Ocean, Loose Joints--in the process establishing an enduring cult reputation.

Russell’s most famous tunes, the dub-sluiced Dada-disco of “Go Bang” and the relatively conventional-sounding “Is It All Over My Face” (not the plaint of someone eating spaghetti bolognaise but a clubgoer who can’t hide his attraction to another dancer), pop up regularly on compilations. But most of Russell’s oeuvre is near-impossible to find, with obscurities like “In The Light of the Miracle” fetching huge sums on Ebay. Now Soul Jazz have punctured that little market and done us all a favor by compiling some of Russell’s best moments (including “Miracle”). And 2004 will see a long-overdue Russell reissue programme kicks into overdrive, with rereleases and compilations from Rough Trade and the Audika label.

“Let’s Go Swimming,” originally released on Rough Trade in 1986, might just be Russell’s finest five minutes. It’s impossible dance music. Waves of polyrhythmically perverse percussion jumble your urges, confounding your body with discontinuities of beat and strange cross-rhythms. This is disco for contortionists or an alien race blessed with an odd number of limbs. All thermal updrafts and tidal currents, the mix really does sound aqueous-- synthesisers gibber like dolphins and bright sound-clusters dart, swerve, double-back and vanish like shoals of exotic fish. “Let’s Go Swimming” makes me think of a kinetic, animated version of a late period Matisse, one of his deliberately naive seascapes made of cut-out blocs of blue and green.

“Keeping Up” and “A Little Lost” are more in the non-dance vein of Russell’s other Rough Trade release, 1987’s World of Echo. Accompanied by his own effects-treated cello and hand-percussion and acoustic guitar, Russell sings meandering, rapturous melodies in a bleary, beatific mumble. Vaguely reminiscent of John Martyn on Solid Air, Russell had a wonderful voice--indistinct around the edges, eerily lacking a stable center, a gorgeous fuzzy cloud of longing and langour that seems to wrap itself around you in a gaseous embrace.

For precursors, think of Can’s cosmic funk, Martyn as his most In A Silent Way diffuse and dub-flecked (“I’d Rather Be The Devil”, “Big Muff”), Weather Report. For contemporaries, think Czukay’s sunkissed Movies, the alien time signatures of Ryuichi Sakomoto’s B-2 Unit, the strange new emotions and inbetween mindstates of Thomas Leer’s 4 Movements, Remain In Light-era Talking Heads (who Russell almost joined at one point). Successors: the lush digital foliage of A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State, Bjork at her most undulant and jazztronic, the texturological and rhythmatic convolutions of drum’n’bass explorers like 4 Hero. Russell really was the lost visionary that these parallels suggest.

The World of Arthur Russell is splendid but in truth only scratches the surfaces of Russell’s officially released work (plus there’s mountains of unreleased material originally deemed too kooky for the Eighties postdisco market). In parallel with his “dance” output, Russell made more experimental/instrumental records like Tower of Meaning, while World of Echo suggests a third path for him as a sort of kooky singer-songwriter (in moments you can imagine him as a peer to Joni, Rickie Lee, or Mary Margaret). Sadly Arthur died in 1992 before truly fulfilling any of these potentials, but along the way left a trail scattered with gems of scatty genius.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

PAPA SPRAIN
Melody Maker, September 28th 1991

by Simon Reynolds





this reissue is for Samuel Macklin whose appreciation of Papa Sprain plus comments box info on "where are they now" is here
TIM BUCKLEY
Dream Letter (Live In London 1968)
Melody Maker, June 16th 1990

by Simon Reynolds




TIM BUCKLEY feature
director's cut, Uncut, 2000

by Simon Reynolds


Tim Buckley was the Hendrix of the voice. "I became more and more an instrument," he said in 1972, reflecting on his evolution from pure-toned mid-Sixties folk troubadour to the zero-gravity vocal acrobat circa his 1970 masterpiece Starsailor. Stretching conceptions of what could be done with vocal chords and throat muscles, Buckley smeared and twisted his voice like some voluptuous plasma-like substance, vaulted and dived across his five octave range, built sonic landscapes and audio-mazes out of his own breath.

Hendrix was actually one of the few rock artists Buckley admired--generally, he hated rock's crude mega-amplified bombast, its lack of subtlety and improvisational spontaneity. There are other parallels. Both died young (Buckley at 28, Hendrix a few months short of his 28th birthday), from drug overdoses, during periods of disillusionment and artistic dwindling. In both cases, the abrupt cut-off of their life trajectories, while tragic and foreclosing any possibility of creative
renaissance, nonetheless serves to make them stand out in bold relief, rockmyth-wise. (No embarrassing twilight appearances on the Jools Holland show, no abortive comebacks, none of the usual Sixties survivor trail of disgrace).

The big difference, of course, is that Hendrix was hugely successful, whereas Buckley was never more than a cult figure. Missing the window of opportunity briefly offered by psychedelia, Buckley's most adventurous work coincided with rock culture's retreat to rootsy Americana (the faux-Southern rock'n'roll of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival,Grateful Dead's American Beauty, Byrds going full-on country, et al). Starsailor came out at a time when ideas of the "cosmic" or "far out" were discredited, when people wanted to get grounded, feel the soil between their toes. Their loss, our gain.

Born on St Valentine's Day, 1947, Buckley grew up in Amsterdam, New York, and then Bell Gardens and Anaheim in Southern California. The sadness and vulnerability that was a big part both of his music and his personal magnetism largely stemmed from his abusive father, who went a bit psycho after injuring his head in an early Sixties accident involving a ladder, and thereafter regularly beat his son up, called him a faggot, and generally made him feel worthless. Musically, Buckley's first love was
country--Johnny Cash, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams. He learned the banjo aged eleven and later played lead guitar in several country bands. But he was also developing his voice. "I'd ride my bicycle around the neighborhood screaming at the buses until I couldn't go any higher," he said of his determined emulation of a jazz trumpet at the age of 12. Flexing his vocal chords obsessively, he developed a five-and-a-half octave range, from baritone depths to the helium-falsetto ether.

It was the purity of his counter-tenor, though, that got him noticed as a fledgling singer-songwriter in 1966--plus the wordy lyrics written by his poet friend Larry Beckett. Cheetah magazine linked him with two other South California folkies, Jackson Browne and Steve Noonan, as "The Orange County Three," and Elektra, the leading label of the folkadelic era, signed him. By this point Buckley's marriage to high school sweetheart Mary Guibert was breaking up, and he was flitting between Los Angeles and the folk clubs of New York, where his new "old lady" Jainie Goldstein lived. Released in October 1966 (around the same time his son with Guibert, Jeff Buckley, was born) his debut album's 12-string folk-rock sounds naive and dated today. Lee Underwood, who played guitar on the record and became his long time
sideman, described the early Buckley as "a Bambi-eyed littleboy poet prattling about paper hearts and Valentines." Buckley himself was unimpressed with the record, and the world agreed with him.

Playing solo at clubs and colleges on the East Coast through 1967, Buckley gradually became a cult figure. Goodbye and Hello, recorded in LA that June, was perfectly timed for the era of Sgt Pepper's and Forever Changes--a sort of folkadelic easy listening, with the debut's sparse simplicity replaced by heavily embellished and overdubbed arrangements. Sonically, the results ranged from the prismatic haze of "Hallucinations"--a stoned summer meadow dancing with sunspots and phosphenes--to the twee harpsichord-laced courtly love minstrelry of "Knight-Errant". Lyrically,
his wordsmith partner Beckett oscillated between portentous protest songs like "No Man Can Find The War" and "Goodbye And Hello," and haunting parables like "Morning Glory"; Buckley, meanwhile, dug deeper into his own emotions with strong songs like "Once I Was," the drugs-as-honey-trap allegory "Pleasant Street", and "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain," inspired by the turmoil of guilt and defiance stirred up by his abandoning a pregnant wife. Goodbye and Hello was the biggest record of Buckley's
career. His new fanbase included a high proportion of girls, attracted by what journalists called his "mother-me appearance"-- thin, fragile, an "instant waif with dimples" (Vogue) and a halo of curls, almost illegally good looking. Buckley was an almost-star. He even appeared in an episode of the Monkees's (he'd hung out with Mike Nesmith a few years back) and sang a prototype version of "Song To The Siren".

Although Goodbye and Hello seemed totally bound up with the Summer of Love (and for that reason now largely feels like a period piece) Buckley soon rejected the emerging alternative conformity that was the hippie counterculture. Recoiling from what he called "the mind-wipe music" of the era (San Francisco's acid rock, post-Cream blues bombast) he doused himself in jazz: Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus,Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Milt Jackson. His own music became more supple and improvisational, about process rather than product.

"I don't want it to be a thing," he said. " A thing is dead. I want it alive, I want it present, I want it always growing and changing..... The trick of writing is to make it sound like it's all happening for the first time. So you feel it's everybody's idea." " With his stripped down band of vibes man David Friedman, acoustic bassist John Miller, congas player Carter C.C. Collins, and the everpresent Underwood on guitar, he recorded Happy/Sad in 1968. Having conquered his fear that Goodbye and Hello's success was due to Beckett's poesy, Buckley was writing songs on his own now--his words were pared down, like the music, Beckett's literary
flourishes replaced by a simplicity and directness that nonetheless contained hidden depths.

With its softly chiming acoustic bass pulses and vibes glimmering like coral, its mood of dazed drift and heat-hazy languor, Happy/Sad resembles Astral Weeks, another classic from 1968 to open up a virgin continent of folky-jazzy-bluesy indefinability. Structurally, songs like "Strange Feelin'" and "Dream Letter" are tidal in their ebb and undulation. "We were writing 9/8 things," he said years later. "Cycles in 11/4, 12/4 and 13/4. I was writing with Carter and that was different. We had all those different rhythms going. African Bahama type sing-song music." . Critic Scott Isler called it "chamber music from a Magritte painting"; Buckley just called it "heart music." As the album title suggests, the record's moods are threshold states, indeterminate and cloudy--bitter bliss, sweet sorrow, a
melancholy sensuality. "It's good if you can daydream with music or even fall asleep," he said a few years later. "If music takes you away and creates a new world. Like Dr. John opens for you a jungle and you enter a magic forest with weird birds and mysterious sounds."

Happy/Sad was well-received, but live, as the band got more into protracted and totally unrehearsed improvisatory jams and Buckley mad-scatted jazz-inspired solos, his US following grew disenchanted. Undeterred, Buckley pushed further out still. Acting as his mindfood-provider and would-be guru, Lee Underwood pointed Buckley in the direction of European avant-garde classical. An "intellectual vacuum-cleaner" who (according to Underwood) "inhaled personalities, inhaled ideas, inhaled knowledge," Buckley immersed himself in the alien electronic languages being forged by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Morton Subotnik, in Penderecki's cacophanous
threnodies for 20th Century atrocities, in Oliver Messaiean's birdsong transcriptions and gamelan-influenced percussive clamor. He was particularly blown away by "Thema (Omaggio A Joyce)" and "Visage", works for solo voice composed by Luciano Berio and performed by uber-diva Cathy Berberian. Her onomatopeaic panoply of "clucks, gurgles, sighs, yowls, sputters, screams, cries, wails "(Underwood's description) chimed with Buckley's growing dissatisfaction with language and lyrics, and hardened his instinctual conviction that "my business is sound... If you use it
right, it's all music."

1969 witnessed the supernova of Buckley's creativity. "I recorded Blue Afternoon, Lorca, and parts of Starsailor in the same month," he recalled later, adding wistfully. "I was hot." A concession to pressure from business folk like manager Herb Cohen, Blue Afternoon was a slight return to the Goodbye and Hello era, drawing on older unrecorded beauties like "Blue Melody" and "Cafe," albeit marinated in the jazzed fluency of Happy/Sad.

Named in homage to Federico Garcia Lorca, the Andalusian avant-garde poet murdered by Franco's fascist death squads, Lorca was the record that Buckley's heart was really in--the first foray of his new post-Berberian direction. "We were getting real tired of writing songs that adhered to the verse/verse/chorus thing," he said in 1975. "The real advance comes in "Anonymous Proposition"-- it deals with a ballad in a totally personal, physical presentation, to cut away the nonsense, the superficial stuff. It has to be done slowly, it has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark."

Lorca is Buckley's most difficult record, not quite achieving the sensory on-rush and riot of colors that makes even Starsailor's most deranged tracks so ravishing and resistance-vanquishing. " I was as close to Coltrane as anyone has ever come," Buckley boasted years later about that album. "I even started singing in different languages--Swahili, for instance--just because it sounded better. An instrumentalist can be understood doing just about anything, but people are really geared for hearing only words come out of the mouth... The most shocking thing I've ever seen people come up against--besides a performer taking off his clothes--is dealing with someone who doesn't sing words.... If I had my way, words wouldn't mean a thing."

Despite its strange time-signatures ("The Healing Festival" was in 10/4) and
unusual instrumentation (flugelhorn, pipe organ, alto-flute), Starsailor still rocks, in its own singular and unorthodox way, thanks to the internal combustion engine stoked by Lee Underwood's scalding rhythm guitar, John Balkin's lunging and twisting bass, and the elegant frenzy of Maury Baker's drumming. Riding the group's implacable drive, Buckley's abstract expressionist ballet-for-voice is at its most untethered and gaseous. On the solo voice "Starsailor", the singer multiplied himself into an astral choir. Sixteen strands of Buckley's eeriest vocal goo--overdubbed, but amazingly not treated with effects in any way--ooze and extrude, striate and shiver, forming a multi-octave meshwork of rippling filaments and quivering tentacles. It's like you're somehow inside Buckley's
body--exploring its labyrinthine architecture of erotic energies and pre-verbal intensities, an inner-spatial honeycomb of bliss and dread,attraction and repulsion. The only parallels for what he was doing on "Starsailor"--and the most gravity-defying and ectoplasmic vocal manoevures on "Jungle Fire" and "Healing Festival"--are Gyorgi Ligeti's hair-raising choral music on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Diamanda Galas's Litanies of Satan. The Ligeti comparison is all the more astounding given that Buckley had no formal knowledge of music theory, harmony, et al,and had never even taken a voice lesson.

In rock, only Iggy Pop (the un-human snarls and expectorations on "TV Eye") and Robert Wyatt (the muezzin-wail-meets-scat falsetto altitudes scaled in the final minutes of "Sea Song") have taken the human voice as far as Buckley did on Starsailor. Weirdly, given that the album seemed to represent Buckley's final push to break free of being "a slave to the lyrics," the words were among his best ever--a sort of erotic-mystic Fauvist beat poetry, all "baited moans" and "I love you like a jungle fire". Larry Beckett, back on board, also came up with some triptastic imagery, like the title track's "Though I memorized the slope of water/Oblivion carries me on his shoulder/Beyond the suns I speak and circuits shiver." (The song,Buckley explained later, was "a view of the universe through the eye of a bee. It's a great cartoon"-- possibly a wind-up, given his reported penchant
for embroidering the truth and sometimes straight-up fibbing).

Starsailor was critically hailed, receiving a five-star review from jazz mag
Downbeat and inspiring purple praise galore (Idris Walters described Buckley as a "vagrant in the void" and a "multioctave drifter in the oblivionosphere.") But the record bombed commercially, and the efforts at live translation went down like a cup of cold sick with audiences baffled by Buckley's forays into Dada-style bruitisme or sound-poetry--snoring,yodelling, barking. Devastated, Buckley sank into depression, drowning his sorrows with barbiturates, booze, and, when it came his way, heroin. For a couple of years, he retired from the business, legendarily chauffeuring for
Sly Stone and working in the ethnomusicology department of UCLA on the notation of Japanese and Balinese music. (Both these activities may actually be more of Buckley's tall tales.) He did a bit of acting, co-starring with OJ Simpson in a never-released movie called Why?, and writing equally unsuccessful screenplays like Fully Air-Conditioned Inside, the story of a struggling musician.

After almost three years in the 'where-are-they-now?' file, and amazingly still in his early twenties, Buckley returned with what he personally regarded as a hopelessly compromised soul-and-funk influenced sound---"ball and chain on the brain", is how he described it. Actually, 1972's Greetings From L.A. was his second masterpiece. With War producer Jerry Goldstein at the helm, the cosmonaut of inner space fell to earth with a lubricious squelch. If he was going to have to play his despised rock music, Buckley was going to make sure it was down-and-dirty. "Rock'n'roll was meant to be body music," he told Downbeat. "It was odd to me that of all the sex symbols that had ever been in rock 'n' roll, from Elvis to Jagger, none had ever said anything dirty or constructive about making love," he told another
magazine. "So I figured, talk about stretch marks, which really lays it out
to people in Iowa. I decided to make it human and not so mysterious, and to deal with the problems as they really are." As part of his new raunchy 'n'randy shtick, he made great show of ogling porn mags during some of his interviews for Greetings.

If your previous exposure to Buckley has been the singer-as-fiery-tailed-comet of Starsailor, Greetings From L.A. can be somewhat disconcerting initially--the horn-squawking, barrelhouse-piano'd stodge-fonk and "Honky Tonk Woman"/"Brown Sugar" scenario of the side openers "Move With Me" and "Nighthawkin'" especially. Apart from his knackered last two albums, Buckley never did anything by half, though, and
when he decided to go "earthy" he went all the fucking way. Literally: Greetings From L.A. is one of the most humanely graphic slices of sexmusic ever recorded. With "Get On Top" and "Devil Eyes," you're right there between the sheets; the sweat, the breath, the saltiness, are palpable. "Get On Top" really takes off in its second half, Buckley leaving behind fixed libretto for freeform libido and mad-scatting a zoo-music of gasps and grunts and Mexican whoops, as lust battles with exhaustion (that's why he's suggesting a change of position). In "Devil Eyes"--the song with the line about licking between his older lover's stretch marks--Buckley beseeches his partner to do the "monkey rub". And in the song's final feverish minutes, he gibbers like a funky gibbon, at one point emitting this vocal wobble like the "ooo-er!" of an orang-utang slipping on a banana peel--a polyrhythmically perverse
pratfall that's simultaneously slapstick funny and teasingly erotic.

Of Greetings's horny-as-hell bubbling babble and orgiastic onomotopeia, Buckley said " I brought in the technique of talking in tongues, which is very religious, out of the Holy Roller thing and very much American, a part of the country. Words lose their meanings after awhile and in a lot of ways, word are just preliminaries to the real thing in music." Cueing off contemporaneous music by Marvin Gaye and Al Green, Buckley had his sights set on their merger of spirituality and sexuality (a resolution of contraries unique to the Black American Christian tradition, where worship is always a bodily expression, and voluptuousness is no sin). "Sweet
Surrender", a gorgeous ballad about infidelity and forgiveness, cast romantic reconcilation in terms the Medieval mystic Saint Theresa of Avila would understand. "Make It Right" went further still into the eroticism of losing control, with a wounded-by-life Buckley seeking sexual/spiritual healing from a street corner girl who's "gonna beat me, whip me, spank me,oh make it right again."

Greetings garnered Buckley minor radio play, but despite its compromises (as he perceived them), the comeback album didn't make him an almost-star again. His next album, Sefronia, was a toned down, tame version of its predecessor, with throwbacks to his early folk-rock phase, like a version of his long-time favorite "Dolphins," written by his friend Fred Neill. 1975's Look At The Fool was enervated and unmotivated, its title seemingly expressing Buckley's feelings of humiliation---he was hurt by accusations of sell-out; even worse, his attempts to sell-out weren't working. In an interview a few months before his death, Buckley stoutly insisted: "I
haven't turned my back on my Starsailor period; I still write things that have been spawned out of that period but I just realized that it's more classically avant-garde. Ultimately, I would love to secure a record deal that could give me a classical contract and also a commercial contract.... I really need the outlet for my classical music. It involves choirs and different stories, just a better platform for my voice and my writing".Indeed he was working on this kind of material with Larry Beckett, like their concept album based around Joseph Conrad's Outcast of the Islands.

In 1975, Buckley was trying to pull himself together, to cut out the drugs and the booze. On the weekend of June 28th, he returned to California after a highly successful mini-tour of Texas. Drunk, he went round to see his friend Richard Keeling and snorted some white powder. Some believe he thought it was cocaine; it was actually smack. On his partially cleaned-up system, and in combination with the alcohol in his body, the effect was fatal. After being taken home in a stupor by Keeling. Buckley died at 9:42pm, June 29th 1975.

For years, Buckley was a largely forgotten figure, bar the odd fulsome review of reissues. His ascent to hipster favedome coincided with the late Eighties emergence of a sort of alternative canon of mavericks and misfits--Nick Drake, Gram Parsons, Tim Rose, Alex Chilton, Robert Wyatt,Chris Bell, John Martyn, Tom Rapp, etc etc. Many of these soon-to-be-usual suspects had songs covered on the This Mortal Coil albums assembled by 4AD supremo Ivo Watts-Russell. The first album's lead single was Liz Frazer's gorgeous cover of Starsailor's "Song to The Siren," which ended up in a TV commercial thanks to Saatchi employee and Coctaus fan Alex Ayuli of A.R. Kane. The second This Mortal Coil album featured two more Buckley tunes, "Morning Glory" and "I Must Have Been Blind". A micro-industry of live albums, catalyzed in 1990 by Dream Letter: Live In London 1968 (a fabulous recording of Buckley's first major British gig, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall) helped to burnish the myth. Buckley was also becoming a major reference point as a palpable influence on Primal Scream's epochal single "Higher Than The Sun" and an ancestor for artists like Red House Painters, Talk Talk, and Dead Can Dance's Brendan Perry. The rise to near-fame of his
son Jeff Buckley (who not only sounded uncannily like his neglectful father but was by far the most talented of the child-of-a-star artists that have plagued the last two decades---Julian Lennon, Ziggy Marley, Wilson Philips, Sean Lennon, Jakob Dylan, ad nauseam) also kept the legend alive. His namedrop cachet may have dimmed slightly in recent years (although Dot Allison did sample a curl of eerie and plangent Underwood guitar from Happy/Sad's "Dream Letter" on her debut album's "I Wanna Feel The Chill"). But Tim Buckley--the Milky Way kid--will always have a corner of the
out-rock firmament to call his own.


TIM BUCKLEY IN HIS OWN WORDS

on Goodbye and Hello's title track protest songs
"I just hate the motherfucker. It's like, 'OK motherfuckers, you want a protest song, here it is'. They were bugging the hell out of me so I figured, just this once, and then I wouldn't have to do it again. "Talking about the war is futile. What can you say about it? You want it to end but you know it won't. Fear is a limited subject but love isn't. I ain't talking about sunsets 'n' trees, I'm involved with America...but the people in America, not the politics. All I can see is the injustice."

on not belonging with the late Sixties heavy rock scene
"It was getting pretty ridiculous to go on after the people that plugged in the Grand Coulee Dam... It was like a fart after a hail storm to go on after Pink Floyd or Blue Cheer. "

on not belonging in the 'rock' category altogether
"I've really never known a rock musician that I could talk to for longer than five minutes at one time. What is there to talk about? The musicians I have played with and the musicians I play with now I feel a phenomenal empathy with, but rock'n'roll I don't know anything about"

on aspiring to be like an animal
"That's why animals are so great, because they're just pure instinct. And when you really get into them, you see that birds are even better than animals, because they have nothing. They're not even like a cat or a dog--they just fly."

on rock versus jazz
"When you stand Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy or Roland Kirk up against rock, rock comes out sounding like a complete pre-fabrication. Everything is so over-rehearsed in rock, that when somebody hits a wrong note, they don't know what to do with it. I'll never forget listening to Roland Kirk play a wrong note, hear it, and within a split second integrate that note into the total sound and take it someplace else. Then it's not a mistake, really... it's life."

on feeling suicidal in 1974 as his career and muse peter out
"You are what you are, you know what you know, and there are no words for loneliness, black, bitter, aching loneliness, that gnaws the roots of silence in the night... There has been life enough, and power, grandeur, joy enough, and there has also been beauty enough, and, God knows, there has been squalor and filth and misery and madness and despair enough, and loneliness enough to fill your bowels with the substance of gray horror, and to crust your lips with its hard and acrid taste of desolation... ... and we are lying there, blind atoms in our cellar-depths, gray voiceless atoms in the manswarm desolation of the earth, and our fame is lost, our
names forgotten, our powers are wasting from us like mined earth, while we lie here at evening and the river flows... and dark time is feeding like a vulture on our entrails, and we know that we are lost, and cannot stir..."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MUDHONEY, Fulham Greyhound, London
Melody Maker, April 8th 1989


by Simon Reynolds

Tonight, Mudhoney are a chastening experience for me. And, as our "emergent underground" hardens into homogeneity, as certain ideas congeal into a new orthodoxy, so I expect to have more and more encounters as schizoid as this one. See, Mudhoney tonight managed the singular feat of being utterly entertaining, and yet, at some deeper level, tedious beyond belief. I was bored, almost literally, to the brink of tears.

That a band can be this urgent, and yet so uninvolving, this frenzied, and yet so ultimately immobile, this charged, and yet so fundamentally lazy, is a testament to some kind of dire deadlock. The moment has passed, an impasse has been
reached. It would be more rewarding to watch someone struggle, uncomfortably and unsuccessfully, to get to some beyond, than to witness something as consummate as Mudhoney.

For Mudhoney are immaculate. Every thrust, rip, rent, howl, jut and jive is perfectly placed, and asserts, with a conviction that's utterly convinving, that punk's not dead. And I don't mean some privileged moment in '76, but punk as Lester Bangs invented it, the bad boy trash lineage that runs from rockabilly, through Sixties garage, Seventies gumbo metal to contemporary thrash. It's alive and burning still. Mudhoney have the riffs, the songs, the vehemence, the
attitude, the windmilling longhair, the witticisms ... "I'll give $50 to the first guy to come onstage and throw his guts up", "we're not playing another song until they erect a stage barrier", "we're tired of all you over-active young people,
let's have some old people up the front now" ... They've only just begun and already they're washed up, standing still at a point of perfection, giving the people what they want, fitting our talk without testing it, meeting our need without
stretching it.

"Mud Ride" tells the oldest story in hardcore, abduction and murder, froths at the mouth about "taking you any place/there's no place to hide", but no one here is remotely endangered. It's a scenario that's already becoming as cosy as the ritual narratives of heavy metal or Oi.

Maybe Mudhoney exhaust me because every word they incite in my mind feels tired and tame in the mouth. Maybe that's just my problem. But maybe - and it's worth considering - the teen sicko raving bloody mess-thetic is spent. Maybe trash is just trash. Sonic Youth have reinvented New York as a city of ghosts. Spacemen 3 have turned to ether. Pixies are now sculpted in five dimensions. So far, Mudhoney have set things up so that their only future is as the oldest teenagers in town. What they do, nobody does better. Do we need it anymore?