November 30, 2013

Felt - "Stained-Glass Windows in the Sky" (1987)

Here's a fine dose of dour mid-80s jangle-pop for a lonely and occasionally hopeless Friday night. And I almost forgot to mention that I have a few C86-related posts in the works soon, if that's your kind of thing....

November 28, 2013

Notes from the Paisley Underground: True West - Hollywood Holiday Revisited (2007)

Along with bands such as The Dream Syndicate, Game Theory, and Thin White Rope, True West originally hailed from the small but very influential music scene that thrived in the college town of Davis, CA. during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and like those other bands, they ended up gravitating to the paisley underground scene based in L.A. in order to find a wider audience and a record deal. True West's sound was a fertile blend of psych-tinged roots-rock, jangle-pop, and a touch of the dark, spidery dual-guitar interplay of Television, a combination of influences that made them quite unique among the paisley crowd. After a brilliant self-released EP (which would eventually be grouped with additional tracks and released as the even more brilliant Hollywood Holiday), the band was invited by EMI to record some demos at the legendary Bearsville studio in New York with none other than former Television visionary Tom Verlaine; however, the sessions didn't go well, and EMI passed on them. Russ Tolman: "What about Verlaine? Well, he seemed real strict and stern. We jokingly called him 'the schoolmaster.' I think he got along better with other people in the band than me, and I was the big Verlaine fan, which was kinda funny. But I was real worried about things getting over-produced so I was kinda playing the sullen adversary sort of role, so he and I never really hit it off until the recording was over and we gave him a ride back to New York in our van  and at that point he turned into plain old Tom Miller, a pretty nice guy from Delaware, instead of Tom Verlaine, the artiste [....] I asked him all the questions I always wanted to know about Television and about Richard Lloyd, and it was a lot of fun."  By the time True West finally released their first proper LP, the slightly less brilliant but still quite enjoyable Drifters, they were beginning to undergo personnel changes that would eventually rob the band of much of their momentum.

Though a third album appeared a few years later, True West were never again able to hit the significant heights of their earliest recordings. Because these recordings remained out of print for more than twenty years, Hollywood Holiday is very much one of the forgotten masterpieces of the paisley scene. While its production sounds a bit thin in places, the austerity serves True West's aesthetic well, as their later recordings tended to polish the dark post-punk grime out of their sound, thus making them seem, at times, like just another jangle-pop outfit. A perfect example of what made True West so distinctive is their cover of "Lucifer Sam" from Pink Floyd's psychedelic masterpiece, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which manages to capture both the twisted whimsey of the original and to inject it with a little early-eighties paranoia courtesy of lead vocalist Gavin Blair, whose voice possesses none of the child-like naivete of Syd Barrett's. Coupled with the intertwining guitars of Russ Tolman and Richard McGrath, the song traverses new-found depths of acid-drenched darkness. "And Then the Rain," True West's signature song and easily one of the best things to come out of the paisley scene, is a tense piece of jangly melancholia that wallows beautifully in its doom-filled verses. My personal True West favorite is "Look Around," the lead track on Drifters, which features a devastating power-pop-style hook and some memorable, inspired vocals from Blair. Although the phrase "lost classic" is used far too often by music reviewers, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters exemplify this notion. Eerily similar to the fate of Big Star ten years earlier, True West was as talented as any neo-psych band of the era, but commercial success would prove frustratingly elusive and, as is so often the case, an early demise soon followed.

November 27, 2013

Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars - "Starman" (1972)

Hands down, my favorite Ziggy Stardust clip. Makes me want to break out the old eyeliner and lipstick (black of course) ;)

Mick Ronson - Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974/2003)

Mick Ronson is easily one of the most underrated musicians of the rock era. A first rate arranger and a sublimely talented multi-instrumentalist whose fiery lead-guitar work for David Bowie's Ziggy-era band The Spiders from Mars proved to be a huge influence on both the punk and post-punk movements of the late-1970s and early 1980s, Ronson was a rock 'n' roll careerist, who, much like Bowie, had endured many failures before his star finally began to ascend. Before meeting up with Bowie in 1969 toward the end of the recording sessions for the Space Oddity album, Ronson had paid his dues knocking about in several bands in his native city of Hull, most notably, an R&B-influenced outfit called The Rats who had a few minor brushes with success in London before descending again and forever into obscurity. The story goes that when former Rats band-mate John Cambridge made the trek from London back to Hull to recruit his friend to join Bowie's new backing band, The Hype, Ronson was working as a Parks Department gardener. Understandably reluctant after his previous failures, Ronson was finally persuaded to agree and consummated his legendary musical partnership with Bowie only a few days later on the John Peel radio show. In hindsight, Ronson's influence on Bowie's glam-phase is incalculable, as he not only was the architect (along with Tony Visconti) of the darker, harder-edged sound Bowie adopted beginning with The Man Who Sold the World, but he also co-produced, with Bowie, many of the classic Ziggy-era albums. Following Bowie's sudden retirement of his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego in July, 1973, Ronson, at the behest of Bowie's manager, Tony DeFries, recorded his first solo album, which, if nothing else, clearly demonstrates the extent to which Ronson had a hand in Bowie's distinctive sound.  

Slaughter on 10th Avenue isn't the kind of solo effort you'd expect from a lead guitarist striking out on his own for the first time; rather, it attempts to present Ronson as a viable pop star in his own right, instead of merely giving him a forum to lay down impressive guitar solos. This is evident from the first song, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender," which starts out reverentially enough, but soon converts this gentle (or sappy depending on your taste) chestnut into an over-the-top glam-rock power ballad, complete with Ronson's histrionic Bowie-esque vocals and dramatic Ziggy-style guitar work. It really should be a mess, but the song is so lovingly executed and sumptuously recorded that it simply works, and works well. Things get even more interesting on the Bowie & Ronson penned "Growing Up and I'm Fine," which listeners will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for (or love of) glam-rock excess. A fey take-off on Springsteen, it's the kind of song Bowie excelled at on albums such as Aladdin Sane, and though Ronson does a credible job on vocals, it's impossible not to wonder what Bowie might have done with the song; nonetheless, it's a great, glittery three-minute ride. And then there is "Music Is Lethal," another Bowie-penned tune that starts out sounding a little like "The Port of Amsterdam," but soon develops into a full-fledged Jacques Brel meets Scott Walker meets Bowie glam-opera. Overall, the production on Slaughter on 10th Avenue is consistently gorgeous and Ronno's guitar-work is spectacular (as usual), and while this is indeed a strange album that ultimately pales in comparison to the Bowie albums it, in many ways, tries to mimic, it still manages to feel like an essential document of a brief but inspired moment when pop hooks, gender-bending and high art could be taken in a single dose.

Mazzy Star- "I've Gotta Stop" (2013)

Hope Sandoval seems to be really resonating with Voix and I this week. This is a gorgeous track off of Mazzy Star's newest album. I was unfortunately unable to find a live performance or video for the song, but it needs to be heard anyhow.


The Jesus & Mary Chain (with Hope Sandoval) - "Sometimes Always" (1994)

William & Hope doing the Nancy & Lee thing, and doing it well. I'm really feeling this song right now, except for that last line- he's a bit of a presumptuous twat if you ask me....

November 26, 2013

Unreflected - A Genealogy of Mazzy Star in Five Chapters: Chapter I- Rain Parade

"We thought it was way more punk to play slow, spooky, sometimes gentle, sometimes hard, but always melodic music, because punk was about doing your own thing and fuck everybody else." - Rain Parade guitarist Matt Piucci

The story of Rain Parade, and in many ways, the paisley underground scene itself, begins in a Pacific Palisades neighborhood in West L.A. during the mid-1970s, where a pair of brothers, David and Steven Roback lived on the same block as a friend and schoolmate named John Hoffs, who happened to have a younger sister named Susanna. What would eventually bring David and Susanna Hoffs together was a mutual love of sixties-era music and Roback's alienated intellectual tendencies. David Roback: "I was fairly different from the other kids, I didn't get on with them [....] We didn't have many common interests. My hobbies were psychiatry and history. I'd psychoanalyze my friends." Eventually, David formed a band with Susanna and John Hoffs called The Unconscious, though the it was destined to be short-lived. David Roback: "There's an old film of us playing in that band, it's pretty interesting but we moved on because we were holding each other back. We didn't want to sing together, we didn't like the sound of male and female voice together." Susanna Hoffs has a different recollection: "What happened was my brother was sort of irritated with David and I for becoming a couple. I was his kid sister, and suddenly I’m stealing his best friend away. So then it was just David and I, and we never did get a bass player or a drummer. We never did a show, and all we did was make some living–room tapes.” By the time the summer of 1977 had rolled around, David had already gone off to college in Minnesota where he, quite by chance, met a guitar player named Matt Piucci, whom he eventually shared a dorm room with and formed a short-lived punk band called The Beatnicks. As if beckoned by fate, Piucci would end up following David back to L.A. several years later. Meanwhile, Steven had immersed himself in the burgeoning L.A. punk scene and was listening to New York art-punks like the Talking Heads and Television. However, it was an L.A. band called The Last, whose sound was defined just as much by melodic power-pop as it was punk aggression, that had a lasting influence on him. After David had returned from college, they formed The Sidewalks and began playing obscure L.A. clubs as an electric folk band; however, it would not be until the arrival of David's college buddy Matt Piucci at the dawn of a new decade, the 1980s, that a new direction for their music would come into focus. Matt Piucci: "I finally moved to LA in 1981 and we formed a band. By then the LA punk scene, which was never any good besides X and the Circle Jerks, had become this fascist thing, much like hip hop today where it was the only allowed style of music considered to be cool. Most of these bands could not play worth shit and had no melodies or songs either. We got REALLY into Television and Love, as well as, of course the Byrds and Beach Boys, pretty much anything that began with B."

Along with keyboardist Will Glenn and drummer Eddie Kalwa, the Roback brothers and Piucci formed Rain Parade in 1981. Piucci: "It did seem like we were completely on our own. I moved out in April of 1981 and we didn't play live until May of 1982, by then we had recorded out first single. Meeting Green on Red and the Dream Syndicate was nice in that they appreciated what we were trying to do, although they didn't sound much like us. We already knew the Bangles." The band recorded their first single in early 1982 at Ethan James' Radio Tokyo studio in Venice, and it didn't take long for it to garner immediate attention from indie communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Nigel Cross of the UK indie mag Bucketfull of Brains: "That first 45 on the Llama label 'What's She Done to Your Mind' b/w 'Kaleidoscope' was one of life's epiphanies- not only one of the great 7"-ers of all time but one of the first signs that psychedelic music was about to have its second flowering. Hearing those two songs filled me with a missionary zeal [....] I wanted to tell the stupid world that there was was this absolutely beautiful, mind-altering music being made again on the West Coast- as good as anything that LA had offered up in the mid-60s. The chiming electric 12-string guitars, the delicate acoustic guitar strummings, wispy organ sounds that could carry your heart, mind and body away from a grim Cold War world."  After recording some demos at Lyceum Sound (a makeshift studio created out of a two-car garage and run by The Last), which ultimately came to light on the compilation Warfrat Tales, Rain Parade found themselves at the center of a quickly growing and unusually coherent music scene, which Michael Quercio of The Three O'Clock would soon dub "the paisley underground" in a magazine interview. Guitarist of The Long Ryders Sid Griffin: "For what its worth, the original Paisley Underground was the Dream Syndicate, Three O'Clock, the Rain Parade and Bangs [....] All these bands drank beer together and lent each other amps. If one of my strings popped during a gig, I'd just hand the guitar to Karl Precoda of the Syndicate and he'd fix it. Nobody had roadies, and nobody was trying to do each other down. The whole thrust of the thing was more social than musical. Okay, so all the groups were vaguely sixties-influenced guitar-pop bands who'd moved on from punk, but the main thing about the scene was that everybody hung out. I mean, face it- the Bangs were pretty terrible when they started out."

In March of 1983, the band entered Contour studios in Los Angeles to record their first LP, the esoteric title of which was dreamed up by David Roback: "I was going through a subway in San Francisco and I noticed it was written on a sign. I thought I've got to write this down because I'm so high, I'll forget it. It reads so well, I wrote it down on a matchbox and suggested it to the band and they liked it it a lot." What they ended up recording was one of the few definitive albums of the paisley underground scene. Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is an enduring and unassuming gem of post-sixties (neo) psychedelia. While certainly taking inspiration from purveyors of 1960s jangle-pop such as The Byrds and Love, as well as the darker, more claustrophobic psychedelic textures of bands such as The Doors and early Pink Floyd, Rain Parade's debut LP is much more than simply an homage to their psych-rock forefathers; rather, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip bristles with the desire for re-invention. Led by the fuzz-guitar interplay of David Roback and Matt Piucci and Steven Roback's shamanic basslines, Rain Parade successfully integrate the blissed-out jangle of songs such as their first single, "What's She Done to Your Mind," with the dark, thick haze of songs like "Look at Merri," which sounds like a blueprint for Jason Pierce's neo-psych excursions a decade later as Spacemen 3 and later Spiritualized. Matt Piucci recalling the recording sessions: "We really did our homework. Every sound on there is well thought out and we were pretty rigorous about it. By the time we recorded, most, but not all of the parts had been decided upon." Steven Roback: "The lyrical themes and song content have a sort of punk ethos to them [....] The state of mind we were all in was pretty dark, and it was like personal therapy for everybody in the band. We were all feeling kind of hopeless and helpless about things, and the band was this sort of idealistic attempt to create some space where we could all feel really great."

November 25, 2013

Joy Division - "Transmission" (1979)

As the holy grail, the heroes, and the heartbreaking maestros of the post-punk movement, Joy Division deserves to be a huge focus of this blog.  Within the next week, I will be beginning my Manchester series where I will be scraping the fascinating grime from the grim streets of the mecca of post-punk.  I will begin with Joy Division, and also explore their influences, Factory Records, and beyond. For now, I leave you to revel in Peter Hook's brilliant bass lines, and Ian Curtis's tragically passionate stage performance.  Oh, and not to mention John Cooper Clark's fucking fantastic introduction.

November 24, 2013

Rain Parade - "This Can't Be Today" (1984)

For fuck's sake, this is a rare find- a David Roback-era Rain Parade video. The first installment of the new series on Mazzy Star is coming soon. Chapter 1 will feature the Rain Parade and include excerpts from some rare early interviews. Stay tuned...

John Foxx & Robin Guthrie - Mirrorball (2009)

At the dawn of the 1980s, John Foxx released Metamatic, a landmark electro-pop album that fused the synth-dominated sound just then coming into vogue in the UK with some of the more avant-garde tendencies of kraut-rock. The result was nothing less than a techno-punk masterpiece. However, as the 1980s progressed, Foxx's albums became less and less distinguishable from the contemporary pop mainstream, and when In Mysterious Ways was released in October of 1985, it was virtually ignored by fans and press alike, causing Foxx to put his music career on hiatus. For the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Foxx (using his birth name Dennis Leigh) worked as a graphic designer, creating covers for well-known books such as Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, and even teaching graphic design at a university in Leeds. While the rise of acid-house, which Foxx correctly surmised was deeply influenced by his best early 1980s work, inspired him to briefly resurrect his music career as Nation 12, it would be his second return to music in the late 1990s that would yield, among other innovative recordings, his ambient masterpiece Cathedral Oceans, which he collaborated on with Louis Gordon, a Manchester musician who would become a collaborative presence on many of Foxx's future recording ventures.

Robin Guthrie with Jaguar in hand
In 2005, Foxx made some live appearances playing beside Robin Guthrie, whose spidery, cascading, effects-laden guitar-work created the dazzling soundscapes that, along with Elizabeth Fraser's unparalleled vocals, made The Cocteau Twins sound so distinctive. Borne out of these appearances was a collaborative project called Mirrorball, released in 2009, the sound of which is entirely what one might expect from these singular musicians who, at this point in their careers, might be better described as sound engineers. On standout track "Estrellita," Guthrie's familiar, squishy arpeggios provide a gorgeous backdrop to Foxx's lovely, seemingly improvised vocals. As I was listening to this song for the first time, I inevitably found myself wishing Guthrie would resurrect the Cocteaus in some form, though he has said repeatedly that he would see this as a regression musically- yah, whatever Robin. Another memorable track is "Spectroscope," which highlights Foxx's ghostly vocals, and provides them with an eerily dramatic yet musically spare backdrop. However, the highpoint of Mirrorball is "Sunshower." Here, Foxx's baritone vocals are a little more aggressive and meld beautifully with Guthrie's restrained guitar-work, creating a truly memorable track, which is always a feat on an ambient-inclined album. If I have a criticism of the album, it's the overly manicured production, which I realize is nearly synonymous with ambient works like this, but can occasionally push the aesthetic into new age territory. Nevertheless, well worth hearing.

November 23, 2013

David Bowie - Aylesbury Friars Club 1971 (2006)

David Bowie's September 25th, 1971 appearance at the Friars Club in Aylesbury, England was, for all intents and purposes, the first live appearance of the band that would soon come to be known as The Spiders from Mars (for this show, they were joined by ex-Animal Tom Parker on piano). Bowie had spent the previous summer months appearing at the Glastonbury Fair (in June), completing the recording sessions that would eventually yield Hunky Dory, and traveling to the U.S. to do a publicity tour (he couldn't perform due to not having a union card), during which, while in New York, he entered the orbit of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. Journalist Chris Needs: "[Bowie] was still going around with his long hair and floppy hats, but he was still great to watch on stage. He had just got back from New York and was full of talk about the people he'd met there." At this point in time, Bowie was still in the process of building a fan base on both sides of the Atlantic despite his brush with success two years earlier with the "Space Oddity" single. However, it was no secret that he had nagging doubts about his ability to ever gain the kind of popularity he desired in the U.K. And legend has it that it was the 1971 Aylesbury gig that convinced him otherwise.

At the time of Bowie's performance, the Friars Aylesbury club had recently relocated to the Borough Assembly Hall after being kicked out of their previous venue eight months prior. The new location had twice the capacity and Bowie's appearance was highly anticipated for a number of reasons. As audience member Rick Pearce recalls, "Bowie arrived on stage to a collective "Oooh!" worthy of Frankie Howerd. I'm not sure what some people were expecting. Major Tom, or a drag act or something of both, but he certainly looked different. Wearing huge blue oxford bags, a white satin jacket and the red and black platforms seen on the reissue of the Space Oddity  album, he was light years away from your average beardy, shaggy, muso bloke." Drummer Woody Woodmansey has said that the band spent weeks rehearsing for the Aylesbury show, as it was their first as a group and something of a "coming out" party for Bowie. Interestingly, the show begins tentatively with Bowie and Mick Ronson doing an acoustic set, which includes a couple of Biff Rose covers, Jacques Brel's "Port of Amsterdam," and "Space Oddity," which Bowie self-deprecatingly prefaces by saying, "This is one of my own that we get over with as soon as possible."

Eventually the entire band joins Bowie and Ronson on stage for a 10-song set that includes great renditions of "The Supermen," "Oh! You Pretty Things" (which is preceded by some Monty Python imitations) and an early version of "Queen Bitch" with different lyrics. Aylesbury Friars Club 1971 offers a rare live glimpse of pre-Ziggy era Bowie, alternating between a modest hesitancy and an awareness that he is on the cusp of something great. While the audio source is certainly an audience recording, the sound is quite clear, if not slightly distant. Despite the sonic limitations, this show captures a key moment in Bowie's meteoric rise to fame in the early 1970s, and as such, it is nearly as essential as the more famous (and also amazing) Santa Monica Civic Auditorium show recorded the following year.

November 22, 2013

Notes from the Paisley Underground: 28th Day - The Complete Recordings (1985/2003)

Hailing from Chico, a small Northern California college-town that was one of the lesser-known corners of the 1980s-era paisley scene, 28th Day was several cuts above the plethora of neo-psych and jangle-pop bands that then littered the landscape, as they featured Cole Marquis' darkly evocative guitar-work (reminiscent of Karl Precoda of The Dream Syndicate) and a young Barbara Manning who would later go on to become a well-loved and semi-legendary fixture on the S.F. music scene. While 28th Day was fated to only remain together long enough to release a self-titled mini-album on Enigma Records (produced by Russ Tolman of True West), in doing so, they managed to leave behind what is simultaneously one of the best neo-psych albums of the 1980s, and one of the most under-appreciated albums associated (albeit marginally) with the paisley movement. 28th Day was Manning's first tour of duty in a band and Marquis was not much more than a neophyte himself as they set about searching for their distinctively folky post-punk, psych-drenched sound. Manning: "28th Day's first year was similar to any beginning band's first one. By this time Cole knew all our songs, being a fan of ours, so when our guitarist quit because he wanted to be a professional DJ, Cole stepped in and it was awesome. I was afraid our relationship would kill the band (as it did), but the magic really worked when we played together. We lived together. We went to school together. We wrote songs and helped to arrange them. But we were very bad at being faithful to each other."

Barbara Manning during her Chico State days
Marquis: "We were so green in the beginning, we could hardly play, but we all believed in what we were doing. We were having fun, and we didn't hold anything back. We made up for the lack of skill with energy, fear, alcohol and faith." What skill deficiencies the band may have had at the time seem completely irrelevant on songs such as "25 Pills," the lead track on 28th Day, a somber jangle-pop gem about drug addiction that pushes close to the brand of melancholia that Joy Division specialized in. And then there's the beautiful "Burnsite," featuring Marquis and Manning's hauntingly intertwined vocals and a paranoia-inducing arrangement (including screams from Manning) that it occasionally reminiscent of David Roback's Opal. Nevertheless, what sets 28th Day apart is their ability to mix in a song such as "Lost," a folky garage-rocker that should have become a paisley anthem, but instead was fated, like the band itself, to footnote status. Marquis: "We were a couple then. I was really into Joy Division at the time, Wire, The Beatles, The Doors, Dream Syndicate. Bobbie [Manning] and I were never that much into punk rock. I started writing these three chord songs like "25 Pills" or "Holiday," it just had that psychedelic sound 'cos that's what I  was listening to and it was easy to play for me." Manning: "How Do I explain it? We were very young. It was our first band. We thought we were the best band in the world. We started to hate each other. Isn't it only natural?"

Killing Joke - "Eighties" (1984)

The eighties are better now than they were then...

November 21, 2013

Swell Maps - Jane from Occupied Europe (1980/2004)

In many ways, the early post-punk movement was a reaction to the overly simplified aesthetic (as well as ideology) of a UK punk scene that had quickly become a caricature of itself by the end of the 1970s. While the term "post-punk" has, over the years, become synonymous with the moody, scratchy, dub-reggae and funk-influenced approach of bands such as Gang of Four, the movement was/is actually quite diverse. This is best exemplified by Swell Maps, who integrated the original Punk D.Y.I. aggression with more "arty" influences such as kraut-rock legends Can, and did so while casting a thick layer of cheeky irony over everything. While their debut, A Trip to Marineville, wasn't always able to integrate these different sonic palettes together seamlessly, their follow-up and swansong, Jane from Occupied Europe, stands as one of the most singular-sounding albums of "The New Wave." From the first few seconds of "Robot Factory," the lead track, it is clear that we have entered uncharted territory. With eerie psych organ, strange clicking effects, and distant mumbled voices, the song sets the tone for what's to come. Standout track "Cake Shop Girl," with its combination of guitar crunch and Kraftwerk-style synth-lines practically writes the book on integrating punk and pop, a book bands like The Meat Puppets would be memorizing soon enough. Though it proved to be the end of Swell Maps, Jane from Occupied Europe is, without a doubt, an essential document of post-punk's first wave. Bassist Jowe Head: "The best Maps experiences included the thrill of feeling empowered by our realization that we could seize the means of production without needing a deal from a conventional record company or management. Also, we had a hell of a lot of fun together! We used to laugh so much it hurt sometimes."

November 20, 2013

Notes from the Paisley Underground: Various Artists - Warf Rat Tales: Unabridged (1983/2005)

At the dawn of the 1980s, the L.A. underground music scene was comprised of a heady mix of bands and styles that included punk, post-punk, cow-punk, neo-psych, power-pop, jangle-pop, rockabilly, and everything in between. In addition to its quite unprecedented musical diversity, what also set this underground scene apart from others before it and those since was the genre-defying camaraderie between the various bands involved. As such, it was not unusual to see someone like Chris D. of The Flesh Eaters- ferocious purveyors of an exceedingly dark blues-punk hybrid that made them legends among the hardcore crowd- befriend and support a band such as The Dream Syndicate, who were in the process of spearheading a psych-revival that would come to be known as the Paisley Underground. Many of these relationships were forged through shared ties with the indie record labels that mushroomed in and around the scene whose rosters often reflected the amazing variety of the L.A. underground itself, a phenomenon that helped give rise to the era of the indie compilation as the best way to promote the music.

A storied example of this was Warfrat Records, a tiny artist-run label, whose recordings were made in a (literally) makeshift studio called Lyceum Sound, which was actually a sound-proofed two-car garage (we're talking egg-cartons on the walls here) that had been rented out by members of The Last as a rehearsal space. The "studio" was originally conceived as a much preferred return to sonic austerity for The Last after having had their sound subjected to the sterilizing effects of the professional recording process on their debut LP, L.A. Explosion!  Eventually, Lyceum Sound played host to bands such as The Gun Club, Rain Parade, The Long Ryders and Savage Republic to name but a few, all of whom engaged in something like recorded rehearsals. As The Last's manager Gary Stewart remembers, the WarfRat record label was born out of necessity: "I didn't so much dream up the WarfRat label as I was forced to start it, as a way of releasing a single [...] that was getting some airplay on Rodney Bingenheimer's Sunday night radio show." The compilation WarfRat Tales was intended as a way to promote many of the bands who regularly passed through Lyceum Sound as well as to pay off some bills (according to Stewart, the album accomplished only one of these objectives).

The album itself is one of the better comps to emanate from the L.A. underground, and has the added advantage of being primarily comprised of unique "demo" performances that are often superior to the more polished versions available elsewhere. The opener, "Try to Rise," a creepy, campy psychedelic rocker by The Last that sounds a bit like Frankenfurter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fronting The Doors, sets the tone for this consistently great and intensely moody set of songs. Another highlight is "Stop the Clock" by the Earwigs, a strange mash-up of punk, ska and early new-wave that functions as a tension-filled time-capsule of cold war paranoia. WarfRat Tales also features some wonderfully scruffy cuts from Paisley Underground mainstays Rain Parade, including a stunning rendition of "This Can't Be Today," later re-recorded for their debut LP, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip. Perhaps the most essential track is "Creeping Coastlines of Light" by The Leaving Trains, a twangy, moody, transcendent slow-burner that is the equal of anything recorded by the scene's more well-known "roots" bands such as The Long Ryders and True West. WarfRat Tales is worth revisting because it offers a significant glimpse into an amazingly vibrant music scene long since gone; however, what makes it truly distinctive is the way its austerely-recorded tracks capture the passion and camaraderie that made the L.A. underground what it was.

Blue Velvet- Candy Colored Clown (1986)

If there is any clip that reflects and defines this blog, it would have to be this clip from the master David Lynch's film Blue Velvet.  The dark and mournful voice of Roy Orbison accompanied by the painful grimaces and passionate shouts of Dennis Hopper evoke an agonizing fascination that Voix and I hope to continually elicit in our readers.


Swell Maps - A Trip to Marineville (1979/1991)

Even though brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks (not their real names in case you were wondering) had been tinkering in a band together for several years under the name Sacred Mushroom, it was not until the rise of the British Punk scene of 1976-1977 that they (along with several friends) began gigging and eventually found their way into a studio as the Swell Maps. The Maps had a hand in creating the D.I.Y. ethos of early punk, as bassist Jowe Head recalls, "We didn’t actually invent the DIY punk scene, because The Buzzcocks released “Spiral Scratch” before that. They had management though, so I don’t think that they really count! Also, Television Personalities and the Desperate Bicycles were getting their own labels together at the same time. We all became aware of each other, and supported each other's efforts- it was a shared sense of pride and pioneering spirit!" When the Maps finally got around to recording a full-length after a 1978 John Peel session created some buzz around their first single, "Read About Seymour," the result was A Trip to Marineville, a mad scatter-shot of an album that manages to offer some of the most challenging music of the British punk movement, but be forewarned: for the most part, this is not punk of the simple three-chord-thrash variety. Mixing in surf guitar, kraut-rock flourishes and some glammy overtones, there is simply nothing else from the original (post) punk era that sounds quite like Swell Maps. This is especially evidenced by songs such as "Gunboats" and "Adventuring in Basketry," which demonstrate the band's obsession with kraut-rock legends Can, creating a unique mash-up of anarchic sonic textures that Swell Maps would explore to even greater affect on their next album (and swan-song), Jane from Occupied Europe. Along with Wire, Swell Maps practically invented the template for art-punk, and are, in many ways, undeserving of their "badness to madness" reputation. Nikki Sudden: "We knew we were good, and despite what is still being written about us we could actually play. Listen to the records and you'll hear that we had a very good idea of what we were doing. Epic and I came to regret all the in-jokes we put about, but the music still stands up [...] We weren't 'conscious innovators' though. We just did what we did."

November 19, 2013

The Easybeats - "Sorry" (1966)

Easily one of my favorite mod-beat songs, probably because I never get enough of scratchy guitars and go-go dancers...

The Velvets- Fragments of a History, Chapter 1: Andy and the Factory

John Cale: "When we went up to the Factory it was a real eye-opener for me. It wasn't called the Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly-line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day something new. I think he was dipping into anything he fancied."  Andy Warhol had immigrated to New York City from Pittsburgh in 1949 and spent much of the fifties slowly gaining fame as a commercial artist for his innovative shoe drawings. By the early sixties, Warhol had begun opening eyes in the fine arts community with his silkscreened paintings featuring the repetition of images adopted from popular culture such as 100 Soup Cans  and the Marilyn Diptych, but in truth, Warhol's use of such images was anathema to the conservative critical watchdogs of the art establishment. For example, at a symposium on pop art held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962, Stanley Kunitz argued dismissively, "If the pop artist is concerned with creating anything, it is with the creation of an effect. Consider, for example, the celebrated rows of Campbell's Soup labels. We can scarcely be expected to have any interest in the painting itself. Indeed, it is difficult to think of it as a painting at all."  Despite the critical resistance, by 1963 pop art had come into vogue, and Warhol, now using a gang of assistants (including Gerard Malanga) in the silkscreening process to expedite the production of prints, moved to the midtown Manhattan studio that would come to be known as the Factory. This is where, over the next several years, Warhol would begin collecting his so-called "superstars": Billy Name, Rotten Rita, the Duchess, Ondine, Paul Morrissey, Ultra Violet to name but a few and socialites such as Edie Sedgwick and Susan Bottomly. Added to these was a revolving cast of prospective artists, musicians, exhibitionists, hustlers, transvestites, and anyone else able to contribute to the Factory's air of cultivated decadence, all of which was ultimately fodder for Warhol's voyeuristic predilections. It was in the middle of this strange mélange that The Velvet Underground would opportunistically find themselves in late 1965.

Warhol at Work in the Factory, 1964
By the time the Velvets had come under the aegis of Warhol, their now-iconic lineup of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker had only been together for a short time, but it was clear from the beginning that this band was a different breed altogether. As their first manager, Alan Aronowitz once recalled, "They were just junkies, crooks, hustlers. Most of the musicians at that time came with all these high-minded ideals, but the Velvets were all full of shit. They were just hustlers." Depending on whom you ask, it was either Gerard Malanga or Paul Morrissey who happened to catch one of the first gigs Aronowitz had secured for his presumptive band of hustlers at a Greenwich Village dive called Cafe Bizarre, and knew right away that Warhol and the Velvets would be a good fit. Morrissey: "Andy didn't want to get into rock and roll [....] he never would have thought of it. Even after I thought of it, I had to bludgeon him into doing it. My idea was that there could be a lot of money managing a rock and roll group that got its name in the papers, and that was one thing Andy was good for- getting his name in the papers." It also didn't hurt that this was no ordinary rock band. John Cale, a classically-trained Welshman who wielded an electric viola, had been playing in minimalist composer La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, an experimental collective also known as Dream Syndicate, which focused on drone music. Lou Reed, after graduating from Syracuse University, had worked as a tin-pan alley songwriter at Pickwick International, but his aesthetic tastes pulled in far less mainstream musical directions. First introduced by Pickwick employee Terry Phillips, as he was looking for a backing band for a potential hit Reed had penned called "The Ostrich," these musical and cultural polar opposites were initially resistant to working with each other, but they shared a fascination for the use of a drone effect in music composition. This eventually brought them together, along with Reed's former Syracuse classmate Sterling Morrison, in a short-lived band called The Primitives, which, after adding drummer Angus MacLise, who had played with Cale in the La Mont Young collective, quickly metamorphosed into The Velvet Underground.

Andy with His Band of Velvets
When Paul Morrissey returned to Cafe Bizarre a few nights later with Warhol in tow, the latter was treated to a surreal scene comprised of the Velvets (now with Maureen Tucker on drums, as MacLise had quit on the grounds that they weren't avant garde enough), playing their tales of S&M and heroin highs to a crowd made up of tourists nervously sipping exotic drinks. Ironically, the band was fired that night, but Warhol had been sufficiently impressed with what he had seen and heard and invited the Velvets to join his Factory and work under his tutelage. Lou Reed: "To my mind, nobody in music was doing anything that even approximated the real thing, with the exception of us. We were doing a specific thing that was very, very real. It wasn't slick or a lie in any conceivable way, which was the only way we could work with him. Because the very first thing I liked about Andy was that he was very real." While the Velvets benefited immediately from Warhol's patronage in the form of new instruments, rehearsal space, and the rigorous Factory regime, the relationship soon grew strained as a result of Morrissey's insistence that the band needed to be fronted by a singer more visually appealing than the often recalcitrant Lou Reed. A German model and fledgling singer, Nico, who had visited the Factory the week before, was Morrissey's choice and Warhol agreed.

Andy Ascending to the Factory
Predictably, Lou Reed and John Cale hated the idea of Nico fronting the band, but given the significant career perks that came with being aligned with a figure such as Warhol, they eventually acceded, and Reed was even persuaded by his benefactor to write songs specifically for Nico. Several of these would appear on the Velvets' debut album, funded and ostensibly produced by Warhol himself (more on this in Chapter 2). During their stay at the Factory, The Velvet Underground was used in a number of ways by Warhol, including providing largely improvisational soundtracks for some of his films and multi-media presentations, the most famous of which was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring the band accompanying a silent film directed by Warhol, titled The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound, along with dancers, strobe lights, slide projections, etc. Nevertheless, the Velvets never fit comfortably into Warhol's "superstar" coterie, as they were more akin to restless students of his rigorous methodology. Lou Reed: "His work ethic, what he was about, the way he turned things around, anti-slick. Genius. An enormous, insane talent, brilliant with colors and composition. Ideas. He'd look at something that you'd be looking at, and then you'd hear what Andy sees. He was so receptive to your ideas; he made you feel like he really believed in you, and he did. He believed in us, and that's why he made us part of it all. He got it. He really got it. Then you look at what he did and you say 'Wow! If he says it's okay, then it must be okay. Because as far as other people were concerned (at that point), we were less than a Campbell's Soup can. We weren't even the paper bag it comes in. 'Some Warhol toy.' They didn't think that for long after we came in and really hauled off and batted them."

November 18, 2013

Simple Minds - New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982/2003)

Voix and I were at our local record store a little less than a year ago perusing the sundry racks of used LPs.  I was admiring the worn edges of the old Bowie records when he came up to me with a sly grin on his face and something intriguing tucked underneath his arm. He knew he was about to show me something that would dramatically raise all of my previous standards of new wave. He presented to me Simple Mind's New Gold Dream, an original pressing with the limited edition purple and gold marbled wax.  I was fascinated, but my wallet was empty.  Voix would not let me leave without this "Glittering Prize" under my arm.  He paid for the record and placed it in my nearly trembling hands.  We left the store beaming with excitement.  

As soon as we arrived back at my apartment, I dropped the needle on the gorgeous marbled vinyl. Charlie Burchill's opening riff to "Someone Somewhere in Summertime" rang through my speakers and filled the room with mellifluous musical gold.  I sat in front of the record player, and let the rest of the song take me over.  Jim Kerr's vocals bounced around my skull, and Derek Forbes' bass lines rattled my bones.  I was immediately enraptured by New Gold Dream and its transcendent beauty.  Tracks like "Glittering Prize" and the title track "New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84)" illustrate a level of cohesiveness and brilliance that a band can only experience once in a lifetime.   The entire album flows so seamlessly and stunningly. There are so few albums that are able achieve the genius that defines New Gold Dream.   

Simple Minds released this record in September of 1982.  It was their fifth studio album.  Critically acclaimed, and rightly so, it climbed the UK charts to the #3 spot.  The album was produced by a teenage Peter Walsh who had also worked with Heaven 17.  Walsh brought in Herbie Hancock to play a keyboard solo on "Hunter and the Hunted".  What an amazing cameo.  A crowning moment on this momentous record, Hancock takes the listener into a dreamy euphoria.  The album ends with the seven minute dark serenade that is "King is White and in the Crowd".  Kerr's spooky and mercurial vocals accompanied by Mick Macneil's enigmatic keyboards bring the record to a dramatic close.  An absolutely perfect ending to an immaculate album.

Still positioned in front of my record player, with my jaw hung wide open, I lifted the needle. Listening to that album all the way through for the first time was an experience I will never forget.  This record has now made its way into my regular rotation, but I still find myself making the extra effort to really enjoy, and appreciate this masterpiece.  I have spent many nights sitting in the exact same spot in front of the turntable, with a glass of wine in hand, letting New Gold Dream elegantly wash over me.

“I have the most beautiful memories of New Gold Dream. It was made in a time between Spring and Summer and everything we tried worked. There were no arguments. We were in love with what we were doing, playing it, listening to it. You don't get many periods in your life when it all goes your way.” -Jim Kerr

Dean & Britta - "Not a Young Man Anymore" (2010): Lou Reed 1966 Screen-Test for Andy Warhol

Lou Reed was the coolest mother-fucker who ever walked the face of the earth. Still coming to terms with the fact that he is gone. Stay tuned for the first installment of The Velvets: Fragments of a History...

Cindytalk - Wappinschaw (1994)

On Camouflage Heart, Cindytalk's 1984 debut, Gordon Sharp created a hopelessly dark, yet starkly beautiful, proto-industrial descent into psychic despair that made many of the goth albums of the time sound like little more than cartoonish attempts to paint facile forms of despair in shades of cheap black paint. Central to the effect of this truly singular album is Sharp's harrowing vocal performance, ranging from the despondent to the cathartic, sometimes within the same song. A decade later, Cindytalk released its second masterpiece, Wappinschaw, which seems, on the surface, to emanate from emotional regions far calmer than that of its heady predecessor, but on repeated listens reveals itself as being constructed from the same emotionally wrenching cloth. Wappinschaw was to be the last album Cindytalk would release for 15 years, and as such, it can be seen as both a culmination and integration of the various elements comprising Sharp's first three albums. Wappinschaw starts with a song as surprising as it is stunning: Sharp's beautifully sung a capella cover of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face." Elegant, raw, austere, and sounding like a sodden angel, Sharp masterfully sets the tone for the album's dynamic exploration of the extremities of emotion, a tone which moves into more familiar Cindytalk territory on the second track, "A Song of Changes." Mournfully melodic while eschewing anything resembling traditional song structure, Sharp creates a strange dirge-like atmosphere for another of his beautifully-wrecked vocal performances. Perhaps the biggest highlight is "Return to Pain," which features Sharp's heavily reverbed voice backed by some wonderfully moody experimental guitar noodling. Wappinschaw is easily one of the most under-appreciated albums of the 1990s, and though it is not a comforting listening experience, it is an exquisitely dark corner offering its own kind of recompense.

November 17, 2013

John Foxx - Metamatic (1980/2007) / The Garden (1981/2008)

Despite being a seminal figure in the rise of experimental synth-pop during the late 1970s, John Foxx has never received the level of notoriety lavished on fellow synth-pioneers Kraftwerk and Gary Numan.  Nevertheless, Foxx's uniquely detached vocal style as well as his consistently challenging approach to electronic music, both of which he progressively developed during his tenure in Ultravox(!), were clearly major influences on Numan as well as any number of lesser new wave artists who littered the musical landscape throughout the early 1980s. In fact, aside from David Sylvian's mature work with Japan, it would be hard to find a more trailblazing figure in post-glam electro-pop. Foxx (then known as Dennis Leigh) spent much of the mid-1970s in a marginal glam band called Tiger Lilly, but in the aftermath of the rise of the punk movement, he, along with violinist Billy Currie, formed Ultravox! whose first three albums, Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!Ha!, and Systems of Romance, trace an increasingly experimental progression from glam and krautrock-inspired post-punk to a more lush yet minimalist, synth-dominated sound that points ahead to Foxx's even more groundbreaking solo work. Perhaps due to Ultravox's unselfconsciously experimental nature, the U.K. press was always dismissive of Foxx's version of the band. John Foxx: "Very early on, we decided to investigate and develop lots of what had then been declared ungood and which we felt were manifesting themselves and were worth recording. These included psychedelia, electronics, cyberpunk, environments and elements suggested by the likes of Ballard and Burroughs, cheap European music and modes, and strange English pop, such as some aspects of The Shadows and Billy Fury which seemed to relate to a sort of English retro-futurism. We were interested in a sort of ripped and burnt glamour. I was also taken with a detached, still stance."
Ostensibly, Foxx's decision to go solo after Ultravox's brilliant third album, Systems of Romance, had to do with the band's increasingly difficult circumstances, which included being dropped by their label, Island, on the eve of a U.S. tour. However, Foxx has suggested his departure was inevitable given his desire to pursue his own muse without interference: "The band thing is a phase- like being in a gang. You can't really be part of a gang all your life; it begins to feel undignified and it stunts your growth, unless you want to be a teenager forever. Some do. Some don't. The benefits were the Gestalt- where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, a very powerful experience- and working in a closed society with people who have the same aim. Of course, the aims almost inevitably diverge as you all grow. The point of view I've always worked from is that of a ghost in the city- someone who is a sort of drifting, detached onlooker- but still vulnerable and trying against all odds to maintain a sort of dignity in the face of all the static." Foxx would take this "ghost in the city" approach to a new level on his inimitable debut LP, Metamatic, quite possibly the most important electro-pop album of the eighties. Recorded in a small studio in North London, which Foxx once described as "an eight track cupboard [...] Very basic, very scruffy, very good," the album represents quite a departure from his work with Ultravox, as it completely dispenses with conventional instruments (and in the process, Foxx's punk origins), instead relying entirely on synthetic textures, and in doing so, achieving a chilly, mechanized aesthetic that is both aurally challenging and artistically compelling.

Foxx: "I lived alone in Finsbury Park, spent my spare time walking the disused train lines, cycled to the studio everyday and wobbled back at dawn, imagining I was the Marcel Duchamp of electropop. Metamatic was the result. It was the first British electronic pop album. It was minimal, primitive technopunk. Carcrash music tailored by Burtons." Both lyrically and musically, Metamatic conjures dystopian images of isolated individuals navigating cold landscapes populated only by architecture and machines, with a recurring theme being disconnection. For example, on the stunningly strange opening track, "Plaza," Foxx's dis-attached vocals are surrounded by several synths all sounding as though entirely isolated from each other. This gives the song an eerie dislocated feel that contrasts sharply with the rather straightforwardly descriptive lyrics. The most recognizably pop-oriented song on the album is "Underpass," an electro-pop masterpiece that manages to be minimalist and incredibly catchy at the same time; it's melodramatic synthesizers and Foxx's heavily treated robotic vocals create another dark tale of unbridgeable distances, but the tension is undercut by the song's inherent danceability. While Metamatic ultimately proved to be the least outwardly accessible of Foxx's 1980s solo albums, it also proved to be his greatest, as its follow-up, The Garden, though a fine piece of synth-driven pop in its own right, signaled a step toward a more conventionally melodic sound that Foxx would continue to explore, despite diminishing returns, for the remainder of the decade until dropping out of public view in 1986; however, it did not take long for his considerable influence to be felt. Foxx: "All the same sounds surfaced again after 1987, reanimated with beautiful new rhythms, as the beginnings of acid. I recognized the vocabulary immediately. A new underground at last. Adventure was possible again after the double-breasted dumbness of the mid-eighties."

Vision for Only the Lonely

Hello everyone,

Sister Ray and I want to thank everyone for such a wonderful start to the new blog. I have missed the sharing community very much and it feels so right to be back. We are aware that the climate for blogs like this has changed over the past few years; however, we are dedicated to keeping this going for as long as possible. Much like the Luna blogs, we will be writing original reviews and articles covering everything from Orbison to surf-rock to mod-beat to psychedelia to glam to punk to post-punk and beyond. We will be starting several series soon featuring Joy Division / New Order, The Velvet Underground (a series I had started on Meta (~) Luna), and coming very soon: Unreflected: A Genealogy of Mazzy Star in Five Parts (I. Rain Parade, II. Opal, III. Mazzy 1, IV. Warm Inventions, V. Mazzy 2), each installment of which will include multiple downloads. Sister Ray's upcoming series on Joy Division / New Order will dig deep into the grimy back-ways of Thatcher-era Manchester. Keep coming back and hit the follow button on the right- there are many exciting things in store


Mazzy Star at The Wiltern, Los Angeles, Nov. 7- Sister Ray & I are somewhere in the shadows

November 16, 2013

Simple Minds- "Someone Somewhere in Summertime" (1982)

My obsession with 1982 runs deep.  It was the year that Cocteau Twins recorded their debut album, the year that The Birthday Party hit it big, the year that Basquait started filling galleries in New York City, and not to mention the year that Simple Minds put out New Gold Dream.  I will be sharing this absolutely flawless record with all of you in the next couple of days.  For now, here is a brilliant live performance in Newcastle of a song off of that record, "Someone Somewhere In Summer Time".  This performance emanates great passion and precision.  Anyone watching becomes transfixed on Jim Kerr's stage incandescent performance, and Charlie Burchill's guitar playing represents New Wave at it's pinnacle.  

What I would give to be amongst the crowd in Newcastle in 1982...  

John Foxx - "Underpass" (1980)

It's a crime how little-known John Foxx is. After three incredible records with the original incarnation of Ultravox (the last of which, Systems of Romance, is a masterpiece), he made one of the most important synth albums of the eighties, Metamatic. In fact, it's really too cool to be called a "synth album." If you've never heard it, stay tuned, because I will be posting it along with his second album, The Garden (both deluxe editions), in a few days. Everything about this song makes me long for the cold concrete edges of 1980...

Au Pairs - Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology (2006) / Equal But Different: BBC Sessions 79-81 (1994)

Stylistically, The Au Pairs are most often compared to Gang of Four, the legendary Leeds band that played a seminal role in rise of post-punk, and while both bands were well-versed in radical leftist politics, structuralism and a jaggedly dissonant yet entirely danceable musical aesthetic, The Au Pairs were anything but derivative, as the band was fronted by the awe-inspiring Lesley Woods, one of the first openly lesbian musicians of the rock era, whose voice was equal parts bluesy sultriness and punky aggression and whose stage presence was a force to be reckoned with. Joining Woods were fellow Birmingham natives Paul Foad on guitar, bassist Jane Munro and drummer Peter Hammond, a lineup that was unconventional in itself for being equally comprised of males and females in a truly collaborative context, while the songs also set the band apart by putting forth an uncompromisingly feminist perspective on gender politics during the early years of the Thatcher-era. Jane Munro: "At the time- to me anyway- the stuff that we were doing didn't seem that out of the ordinary because most of the bands we were gigging with or who were influential at the time also had political and/or feminist lyrics- the Gang of Four, the Slits, the Clash, the Raincoats, the Mekons, to name but a few. In retrospect though, to judge by the number of people who remember and were influenced by the band, I guess we must have stood out- possibly down to Lesley terrifying the audience!" As with some of the other bands Munro mentions, lyrically, The Au Pairs could occasionally come off a bit politically didactic to certain ears, but musically, post-punk rarely sounded this dynamic and this fierce.

Lesley Woods
The Au Pairs formed in 1979, with Jane Munro being the last to join: "I joined the band by a kind of happy accident, really. I was on the periphery of the Moseley music scene and the other band members and I had a mutual friend, Martin Culverwell, who later became our manager. I'd bought a bass guitar and had progressed as far as the bass line from 'Peaches' [by The Stranglers] and Martin said he knew a band who were looking for a female bass player. Lesley rang me. The four of us had a jam together at a room over a pub, and the rest is history." After playing a number of gigs together, the band wasted no time in recording their first single, "You," and after releasing their second single, "Diet / It's Obvious," a year later, they were invited to record some BBC sessions. This momentum allowed The Au Pairs to begin recording their debut album, Playing with a Different Sex, which was issued in 1981 on Human Records, a label owned by a friend of the band. Munro: "We wrote the songs by jamming around a riff or melody line that one or other of us had come up with; it was very much a joint process. Lesley wrote the lyrics and, no, we didn't always agree with her views but she was a very strong character and invariably got her own way." Comprised of a heady mix of Punk, Dub, Reggae, and Funk, along with Woods' whip-smart and ironic evisceration of bourgeois notions of sexuality and gender, Playing with a Different Sex was a stunning, defiant debut that garnered the band immediate attention from the music press. Songs such as "We're So Cool," which is sung from the perspective of a woman halfheartedly trying to convince herself that "things are cool" with her emotionally vacant lover and "Armagh," which details the torture and sexual abuse of wrongly imprisoned Irish women at the hands of the Tory government, were matched by the album's memorable cover, an iconic Eve Arnold photo of women fighting in the People's Liberation Army. Lesley Woods: "The Chinese woman on the cover isn't wearing a uniform but this searing dress. It's not like when people say women can fight as well as men because they usually dress up in a uniform; this woman is going into battle as a woman, running into battle carrying her gun."

Paul Foad
Due to Woods being the driving force behind the band's aggressively politicized lyrics as well as a mesmerizing figure on stage, the music press began to focus almost exclusively on her in terms of album reviews and interviews, something Jane Munro feels didn't always offer an accurate picture of The Au Pairs: "They became more and more obsessed with the band's political stance and Lesley's lyrics. As a result she became the unelected spokesperson. I was never in my element doing interviews anyway and they always seemed to be dredging over the same old ground, so to some extent it suited me to let Lesley get on with it. If the rest of us had been more assertive it would probably have been better for the band though- we might even have been able to demonstrate we had a sense of humour, although I doubt the press would have been interested in that- not controversial enough." Make no mistake, however; the early eighties were highly politicized times, and music gigs in the context of the punk and post-punk scenes were always about anger in response to the corrupt values and general apathy of mainstream culture. This also made the gigs as much about connecting with others ideologically and sharing information as they were about hearing music; in other words, these gigs were a catalyst for political activism. Paul Hammond: "You could have a go at attacking issues through music because there were places to play for bands [....] We'd play to thousands of people, mainly students and all in anger- all wanting to do something. That's gone now."

Cocteau Twins - Garlands (1982/1990)

Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and original bassist Will Heggie formed Cocteau Twins in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1979.  The band was heavily influenced by Joy Division, The Birthday Party (who they would later go on tour with), and Souixsie and the Banshees.  Soon after their formation, they recorded and sent out two demos to John Peel and Ivo at 4AD Records.  The band was contacted immediately by John Peel and booked for a recording session.  4AD soon followed. Out of this came their debut album, Garlands.  The album cracked the top 5 spot on the independent charts, but many critics found this album left something to be desired.  I beg to differ.  This album is blissfully dark, and quiveringly beautiful.  Elizabeth Fraser's voice is like nothing I have ever heard before, or will ever hear again.  Even in its formative stage, the woman inspires a galvanic response with her vocals.  Tracks like "Wax and Wane" illustrate her immense talent. Robin and Will's guitar and bass playing are haunting in a way that was only possible in 1982. This is the only album Will Heggie appears on. Curiously enough, Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk sang back up vocals on "Hazel" and "Dear Heart".  After first listening to this album, I knew it belonged in my list of all time favorites.  Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the ethereal gloom that is Garlands.

November 15, 2013

Suede - "Wild Ones" (1994)

This is for you beautiful woman. It really says it all....

Cindytalk - Camouflage Heart (1984/2007)

Exceedingly dark, cathartic, and at times, virtually unhinged, Gordon Sharp's early-80s incarnation of Cindytalk was a dazzlingly self-indulgent gloom-fest that anticipated the industrial-rock movement years before the genre even had a name. Best known for his fine contributions to the first This Mortal Coil project, It'll End in Tears, Sharp's work in Cindytalk is far more visceral and far less ethereal than what was emanating from the 4AD label at the time. While Gothic in mood, Camouflage Heart, Cindytalk's 1984 debut, has a dirty, gritty undertow that makes it sound something like Peter Murphy in full vampire-mode fronting The Birthday Party (in fact, Mick Harvey appears on "Under Glass"). On the standout track,"The Ghost Never Smiles," Sharp's eerie, wailing vocals sound like they are emanating from the bottom of a well as a dull tribal beat and guitar feedback carry the song toward what feels like a free-fall into the abyss. Truly harrowing stuff. Want to join me there?

November 14, 2013

Steve Harley & The Cockney Rebel - "Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)" (1975)

Starting here wasn't the plan given the blog's title, but my heart was torn asunder tonight, and this song captures how I'm feeling perfectly. Harley is such a master of sarcastic irony. I just want to tell the world to go fuck itself. Know what I mean?