Archive for March, 2011

Who? Kris Needs presents

Title: ….. Dirty Water: The Birth of Punk Attitude
Year Zero
The Lowdown
The sources and influences of punk is something that has intrigued many over the years, and been exploited by far more. It is often said that Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, Bowie and reggae formed the basis to which punk rockers like Rotten, Johnny; Strummer, Joe and Scabies, Rat could use as a platform for raucous and uncompromising  rock und roll. But that only tells half the story. Pour example, monsieur, I show you exhibit A, Irish reels, played at Screen on the Green and other early punk events. But do you ever see an Irish reel on a roots of punk compilation or mentioned in the many scribblings on the background to punk’s breakthrough in 1976? Hell no.

Truth is everything influenced punk: 1950s rock’n’roll because some bands wanted to hark back to that organic era; prog rock even because that was the absolute nadir in music that helped propel the future punks to rejecting all behind them and to search for something new. And the truth is that none of that did either, because punks were a product of their society, art school, bored middle class kids in some bands, unemployed oiks in others. They lived through the 1970s, a dark and foreboding time that history tells us was the worst economically and socially since the 1930s.

Writer and music nut Kris Needs has attempted to dissect the past that partly created the monster that punk became. That he uses the obvious is no surprise – punk’s alleged precursor pub rock in the shape of Dr Feelgood; the late 60s/ early 70s angry young men – The New York Dolls, the Stooges and MC5, and those who sprung out of the traps in 75-76: The Saints, Suicide, and The Dictators.

For an album that seems to explore the influences of punk attitude it seems almost criminal that there is a solitary reggae track given this was what was played by the likes of Don Letts at punk gigs, and was the listening material of John Lydon and the Clash. The fact it is Culture’s magnificent Two Sevens Clash, tagged on at the end of disk two makes it all the more bewildering, surely more reggae and dub would have mingled beautifully with the noise and grunt of earlier?
Taken as an album as much as an historical lesson, Dirty Water is a fine collection of tracks, that, well, as I said, have a lot of noise and grunt. It lends from the garage rock sub-culture of the 1960s with some old rock’n’roll such as Gene Vincent’s Blue Jean Bop right up to The Saints’ end of 1976 rabble rousing I’m Stranded, a track that coincided with punk but, as they came from Australia and this was pre-My Space, they were influenced more by the burgeoning proto-punk scene in their own country than by what was happening in New York and the UK.
Needs has found some gems, uncovering, for most people, Zolar X, the politically-charged Death and The Up, while the Hollywood Brats’ fantastic take on The Kinks’ I Need You has apparently never been released on CD before. Needs must have a fabulous record collection.
Not all tracks are fabulous though, Jooks’ Oo Oo rudi is glam-rock at its worst; I would doubt if any teenager in 1976 was inspired by the neo-folk of the Silver Apples and, to get some big names, the label’s included a few live tracks, with copyright presumably being a problem in obtaining studio tracks by MC5 and the Stooges. And if the former fanzine editor really wanted to purvey the essence of the movement then he should have sought out that nasty, unglamourous, biker-baiting bunch of hardcases, the Electric Eels.
It might have been better, given the broad range of genres across 33 tracks, everything from cabaret pop, pub rock, experimental, folksy, proto rap, garage rock and reggae to label this the sounds of the underground, 1956-1976. But, then, punk sells.
One noticeable thing about the double album is that there are few feminine sounds here (The Up’s Sisters Sisters being an excellent exception) but one thing punk did do was radically alter the sexual bias in rock, thanks to Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Gaye Advert, the Slits, Poly Styrene et al.

Who? Dropkick Murphys
Title: Going Out in Style
Born and Bred records
Tell me more:
The Murphys have two passions: punk rock and their Celtic ancestry. In the past this has been displayed in a souped-up version of the Fields of Athenry, played with all the passion roused on the terraces at Scotland’s premier football team, Celtic, even with the pace amped up ten-fold.
The Lowdown: In 2011, the Celtic favourite is The Irish Rover which sounds much like the Pogues-Dubliners version from 1987. It’s a stirring end to a stirring album that features bagpipes and bass in almost equal harmony.
Through it all the Murphys retain that hard-edged rock’n’roll attitude, playing at breakneck speed, with little time to take in a breath. You’ll have heard it all before if you’ve heard any of their previous albums, and while it would have been nice to hear some diversity and ingenuity, I can’t fault the band for their passion and commitment.

And finally, a brief mention to a band I known absolutely nothing about. But thank you The Fragrant Vagrants for sending Porky your new CD, Take High Tea, which has a cover that features Leanne Wardle’s drawing of wild animals dressed in shirt and ties.

This Congleton band have most certainly been influenced by punk with its rousing choruses and rollicking verses. But this is also a band rooted in the type of music that had young men and women dressed in all sorts of garb, and with hair that would give their parents and grandparents nightmares. We live in a far more sanitised society now but at least we have bands like this unafraid to sing and play music from the heart. “I don’t know what I want, and I don’t care if I get it,” from Useless Generation is a perfect no-nonsense line that states the bleedin’ obvious.
For more on the Vagrants go to myspace.com/thefragrantvagrants and that will tell you how to buy the excellently-priced EP.

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Who? Connan Mockasin

Title: Forever Dolphin Love
Label: Phantasy/ Because Music
Tell me more:
Please don’t be deceived by the support slot on Crowded House’s UK tour, you really can’t blame someone for snapping up a prime spot with New Zealand’s most famousest band ever when you’re a struggling artist in London. Kiwi Mockasin – who’s dropped his band, the Mockasins, sounds, thankfully, very little like the chart-bothering hit machine of the Finn brothers. Simplistically labelled by some as alternative or psychedelic there is far more to Connan than those terms would imply.
The Lowdown: The first thing you hear is a group of children saying “hello Connan” and there’s a childlike, otherworldliness throughout Forever Dolphin Love. It’s significant that it was written while Mockasin was living in a tent outside his parent’s house. It is a homespun album, made by someone without pretension, sung with recourse to babbling and even  singing in an interplanetary language. Mockasin clearly isn’t aiming for constant MTV rotation or a GQ cover piece but he has a niche audience, the same that’s happy to listen to 20 listens of a Radiohead album before “getting it” and play Beatles records sideways.

Anything else? Comes with Forever Dolphin Live, an, ahem, live album with one track not on Dolphin Love.
Who? William Fitzsimmons

Title: Gold in the Shadow
Nettwerk records
Tell me more:
Fitzsimmons hails from Pennsylvania, a state renowned for tough people and tough-as-nail-boxers such as Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Despite its proud pugilistic history Fitzsimmons is no fighter and there’s barely an angry word on Gold In The Shadows, his third album. Both those previous efforts were sombre affairs but Gold deals more with healing and moving forward.
The Lowdown:
With someone who is a mental health worker and has his own mental health issues to deal with, there is going to be some weightiness on a ten-track album. But he does it with the positivity I alluded to earlier and some of the songs are almost trippy, enchanting, reminding me of under-rated English artist Neil Halstead, who blends folk music with the rhythms and layered melodies he developed in shoegazers Slowdive. Fitzy’s approach works on the jaunty The Tide Pulls From The Moon and Psychasthenia, the most ambitious musical track on this album. But there is some turgidness that pulls it off on another direction, and something like Bird of Winter Prey is too languid, almost too simplistic, to bear listening to in full. Pleasant sounds for unpleasant people.
Anything else? Both Fitzsimmons parents were blind.

Who? My Ceramic Rabbit

Title: Sex A Word
Matchbox recordings
Tell me more:
Hailing from South Wales and compared to majestic British 80s idols such as The Smiths and The Cure, My Ceramic Rabbit seem to have it all, or a good chunk of it anyway. Formed in 2007 as a three-piece they have since increased by 33 percent and despite the strangely limited amount of online information on the band, this appears to be their first major release.
The Lowdown: The first track, Until the Moon Bites Back, is a gloriously melody-fuelled hummer that reminds me enormously of early Suede with crisp, captivating lyrics. A fine start, so let’s move on to Heaven On Her Own, that equals fellow Welshmen The Howl’s adeptness at blissed-out pop songs with oodles of guitars. By the opening chords of the third track, White Emotion, I’m feeling good, whistling away on the bus as my CD walkman (yes, one of those) churns out a great chorus. However, Daniel Evans’ vocals are showing hitherto signs of weakness and that’s an ominous sign. After 3:14 of that track, you would not be committing a musical crime by stopping the CD as it falters like a gymnast on the cusp of a ten-score Piked Double Arabian with Full Twist. Why the change of tone I can only surmise but by the final (eighth) track, Sex A Word, I’m relieved at its brevity.

Anything else? It’s produced by former Damned guitarist Roman Jugg.

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Who? Marianne Faithfull

Title: Horses and High Heels
(Dramatico records)
Tell me more:
Lazy journalists continue to reference her collaborations in the 1960s with the Rolling Stones as the peak of her career, but there’s been innumerable solo albums, culminating in the much-lauded Broken English (1979) and a variety of acting work. Horses … contains eight cover versions and four new songs co-written by Faithfull.
The Lowdown: Despite three-quarters of Horses and High Heels being written by others, to call it mainly a covers album, a concept synonymous with artists struggling with writer’s block or needing a quick sales boost, would be unfair, given these aren’t your karaoke foodstuffs or radio-friendly unit shifters. Instead, she’s plucked obscurities by the likes of Jackie Lomax and the Twilight Singers. Her deep voice would be perfect to narrate a Gothic play, and brings a touch of eerieness on The Old House, written specially for the album by Irish playwright Franck McGuinness. This, and the opener The Stations, require a certain mood for listening while the single Why Did We Have to Part is, as you can imagine, a trawl through the past, as Faithfull seeks some answers.
Recorded in New Orleans, the feel of Louisiana and the Deep South oozes through, her version of That’s How Every Empire Falls (by R.B. Morris) sounds epic, and uplifting and gloomy in the same few verses. She also does a soul track, No Reason, that comes across as David Bowie, circa 1975. She’s not afraid of broadening her horizons but while Horses and High Heels is adventurous, Faithfull sometimes misses the mark on the covers and her voice doesn’t have the range to do some of them justice.
Anything else? Talk about good breeding! Her father, Major Robert Glynn was a British military officer and college professor in psychology. Her mother, Baroness Erisso, was connected to the Hapsburg dynasty and a ballerina in the Max Reinhardt Company.

Who? PJ Harvey

Title: Let England Shake
Tell me more:
Harvey is the serious Siouxsie Sioux, all black hair and pseudo-gothicness. I regard Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) as her finest 45 minutes, a rousing collection that had me both itching for more and in need of some respite after playing it. It is a glorious work but as with all Harvey albums requires some padding to soften the landing. Let England Shake was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset and features old collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey.
The Lowdown: Harvey has often focused on the emotional, writing about her loves, hates, desires, the whole gamut is there. For Let England Shake, Harvey has taken on an observational role, looking at her home country and its role abroad, with an emphasis on war, both current and historical. The end of the Empire and Britain’s diminished role in the 21st Century brings Harvey to note that “England’s dancing days are done,” on the title track and on a track simply titled England her homeland “leaves sadness, it leaves a taste, a bitter one,”.

The bugle’s used to majestic effect on The Glorious Land, one of a few tracks that reference the horrors of World War I and in particular the gory Gallipoli campaign that is etched so strongly in the psyche of the people of New Zealand and Australia, who’s men took the brunt of the armoury of the Empire’s foes. Those who know Harvey will not be surprised that she describes events as they are, eg “soldiers fell like lumps of meat” on The Words That Maketh Murder. Anyone waiting for a pop album may feel this is not it, but the militaristic and national soul-searching elements aside, this is a generally uplifting album that shows a musical diversity and even includes a sample of Niney the Observer’s reggae classic Blood and Fire.

Who? Deerhoof

Title: Deerhoof Vs Evil
Flying Nun
Tell me more:
Flying Nun were at the forefront of the so-called Dunedin Scene in the early 1980s but the revived version of Roger Sheppard’s label now releases international material, with this release created by a San Francisco outfit who’ve been around the block since 1994.
The Lowdown:
The reasons Deerhoof are not the pangalactic force some may wish is the same reasons we should love them so. The first thing you notice is how subtle singer Satomi Matsuzaki sounds. She possesses a cutesy voice with the lyrics fitting neatly with her style, but I can see how it could be irritating over a whole album. Matsuzaki is the opposite of Marianne Faithfull and her gruff intonations. With titles like Behold a Marvel in the Darkness and Must Fight Current (say it in a superhero trying to save his life in a choppy ocean kind of way), and the use of such instrumentation as dump-sourced drums, teeny keyboards and super-condensed guitars, Deerhoof remind me hugely of England’s Stereolab and their glowful lo-fi groovy sound.
Deerhoof are a talented bunch with a tendency to dabble in the diverse and untrendy. It’s obvious listening to Deerhoof Vs Evil that there is a sense of fun in being a unique, adventurous band who’re making songs for the sake of themselves. Not evil, just pleasant.

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Gang of Four: Auckland, February 24
Gang of Four: Entertainment! (EMI)

Seeing the Gang of Four in Auckland inspired Porky to seek out what is generally regarded as a post-punk classic, Entertainment! Luckily, they had in Real Groovy for $15.

We’ll come back to this seminal work soon but first a few words on the Gang’s show in Auckland, their first-ever in New Zealand, despite forming in 1977.

The Leeds outfit retains its two lynchpins, singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, with Thomas McNeice now on bass and Mark Heaney on drums. It’s always a curiosity to see ageing, founder members with younger turks replacing former members (Hugo Burnham was involved up to 2006, Dave Allen until 2008) but it worked, the energy of McNeice being matched by the effusive King.

This show was booked some time ago, but it was overtaken by the massive earthquake in Christchurch, an event mentioned by King, who offered his condolences to the families of the victims and everyone affected by the disaster. I had the flights from Wellington, the accommodation and the tickets but, working in the media, I was asked to work extra hours, so I headed north a little guilty at not being able to help out, though I was on board soon after returning. The writer of this great blog had it far worse though:


Jon King (picture; Craig Stephen)

Gang of Four focused largely on the classics, the new album Content barely getting a look in – and while I have heard of poor reviews, it would have been good to hear some of the new material. Of what was played, the rock-esque You’ll Never Pay for The Farm, sounded as brilliant as it did when they guested on the David Letterman Show.

Bands who do get to New Zealand (a reasonable number surprisingly given its isolation, small population and lack of a decent mid-sized venue in the capital Wellington) usually give of their best, I assume because they realise fans here get few opportunities to see their favourites in action. And there’s no doubt that the Gang were on form at Mt Eden, doing a double-encore and playing for some time. The above link gives more detail; suffice to say with King’s madcap lunacy and Gill’s faux-glumness it was an entertaining night, which brings me to the 1979 album that made their name.

Looking back now, with the likes of Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and REM’s Michael Stipe both espousing its virtues on the reissued version’s sleeve notes, and so many new bands such as the Futureheads and Bloc Party clearly inspired by them, it’s hard to explain what a groundbreaking album this was on its initial release. By 1978, music in Britain was mourning/ recovering from the end of punk, a movement that was the equivalent of a molotov cocktail thrown in a shopping mall.

With its razor-sharp rhythms that seemed influenced by funk as much as punk, and it’s literate and incisive lyrical form, Entertainment! set the tone for a burgeoning post-punk movement that would take over the punk flag. The Gang are name-checked all over the shop now, but, despite fawning reviews of the album, the Gang of Four would never go higher than 58 in the UK singles charts (At Home He’s A Tourist). The respect of John Peel and topping the Independent charts partially made up for their failure to crack the mainstream.

Entertainment! begins with Ether, which heralded their unique vocal style, King’s obscure lines followed by some crisp words by Gill about the situation in Northern Ireland (eg “Censor six counties news”). Such a vocal delivery was typical of the band: King was the more illuminated of the two, while Gill was the hectoring chap at the back.

They wrote about politics; eg the alienation of work in Natural’s Not In It, and how history is rewritten to create heroes (Not Great Men); but the quartet were also intrigued by the politics of the individual. In 5.45, King explores the notion of war coverage and viewing it on the news at home (ITV formerly broadcast their tea-time bulletins at that time): “How can I sit and eat my tea, with all the blood flowing from the television.”

There were even songs about love, but with a differing perspective from the usual boy-meets-girl take in pop music … “Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax, and that’s something I don’t want to catch” (Anthrax) and “Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you, but I know it’s only lust,” (Damaged Goods).

The CD version I have is the 1995 reissue with 1980’s Yellow EP – Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time, He’d Send in the Army, It’s Her Factory but missing a revised Armalite Rifle that apparently was included on this reissue. The most recent reissue, from 2005 on Rhino, has four further additional tracks – alternate versions of Contract and Guns Before Butter and two live tracks, Blood Free and Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane.

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