Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Gee, aren't you thankful for the modern miracle of internet? Now you don't have to wait ten years between issues of BLACK TO COMM to read my opinions on a wide variety of recorded wares anymore...nowadays all you have to do is "dial up" (to use Wayne McGuire's now thirty-five-year-old term) my blog and read my usually witty and ascerbic reviews as fast as I can poop them out! Enough self-satisfying dribble, here are a number of recent and not-so items that I've been playing a lot or a little of as of late, and I figured that maybe there was just ONE person out there who would be intersted in reading this stuff and if you're that guy....AIN'T YOU A LUCKY DUCK!!!!!

The Velvet Underground-SCREEN TEST: FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE FALLING SPIKES (Dom 001 Japanese bootleg)-Here's a direct dupe (with added bonus tracks) of an LP that came out in the mid-eighties during the sudden mini-rash of Velvet Underground booty. You may remember those times way back when it seemed there must have been at least twenty Velvet Underground albums, EPs, singles, picture discs etc. of questionable legality making the rounds, just begging you for your hard-fought welfare check money. (By the way, the correct saying is "A fool and his money are soon parted," though maybe they just say it different elsewhere on this planet. However, considering the "person" who made this comment recently, in this case I would say the old adage should now be "A STOOL and his money are soon parted!") Most of these discs were pretty much useless if you've been in on the game for awhile, they being dupes of earlier masterpieces or zilch-generation live tapes that sounded icky upon vinylization etc., but this one at least seemed interesting. Alledgedly put out by one John Balance (who I think was in one of those pagan British bands...they all are pagan come to think of it) using tspes that were donated by Thurston Moore (ex-Coachmen, see BLACK TO COMM #25...please!!!!!!!), SCREEN TEST was unique in that it tried to capture the very early, anarchistic Velvet Underground feeling and sound back in their early Warhol days when their shifty, under-the-sheets style was still in force. With soundclips from Warhol films (including dialog from some early-seventies post-Velvets period flick...the one about women's lib that got all the feminists undie-bundled) and John Cale describing his vast array of esoteric instruments (and plans for creating a music that could change the weather!), how could you go wrong. Looking back, this bootleg was one of my favorite illegal recording pleasures of 1985, a year which I remember as being a rather good one for bootlegs altogether.

Some enterprising Japanese (who understand the pure nature of the early-Velvets mystique as some current aggregations like LSD Marsch, Uptight and Doodles will lead you to believe) have reissued SCREEN TEST on digital disque, and guess what? It sounds like they had someone tape the album on a cheap Cetron cassette using a Zayre's stereo unit (bought on sale for $29.99 in 1972...real jeeter stuff!) which must account for the extremely low-fi sound. Well, it's nice to know that at least some CD-generation people have a hankerin' for the old Moxie days of cheaply-pressed wonders...I always liked that stuff myself, but given the better-sounding sources available the bootleggers could have easily re-built this album with fresh tapes making it sound pretty crystal clear. The music (I'll have to admit) deserves it, from the mad clang of "The Fourteen-Year-Old-Girl" to that wonderful, oriental-like sounding melody (which evolves into a 1957 instrumental number!) from the CHELSEA GIRLS soundtrack. Still nice for the music extant and the ideas behind it.

Tim Buckley-STARSAILOR CD (Enigma/Straight)-This disc has been getting a lot of revivalist hubbub as of late and guess what? For once this re-found interest is warranted for STARSAILOR, Tim Buckley's infamous stab at a new avant garde rock back in 1970, is every bit as good as even the wankiest of rock bloggers would lead you to believe. And even, as I've said I was one who was more than interested in giving this platter a listen to after reading former Buckley lead guitarist (and future DOWN BEAT editor) Lee Underwood's impassioned article on Buckley in a 1977 issue of Underwood's internationally-reknown jazz flopsheet, mostly because at the time I was a big Frank Zappa nut and wanted to know more about anything associated with him even if it was Tim Dawe. Luckily enough, in August 1978 I finally found a used copy of not only STARSAILOR but Buckley's final Elektra outing LORCA in a Cleveland Heights used record shop, and naturally both of these discs were welcomed with open ears once I got home and slapped 'em on the ol' turntable. LORCA was fine enough even though only side one was what you would call avant garde jazz-derived (the flip was just more of Buckley's introspective West Coast rock folk which didn't interest me as it seemed too much in that jazzy Joni Mitchell vein---in fact I recall a critic in I believe STEREO REVIEW comparing her oft-praised '79 MINGUS album to STARSAILOR!), but as for the other album... Well, it was yeah, kinda like, er, pretty nice and all and, yeah, I like it I guess...but frankly it didn't have that much of an overall effect on me. But then again, there were plenty of records I would now swear on a stack of back issues as to their ultimate greatness that just didn't zone me out on first spin back then, so I gave STARSAILOR another chance. Then yet another chance a few years later. Maybe it was the lousy sound (groove damage?) that made it so unenjoyable, but later on I got hold of a dee-jay copy thinking it would sound crystal clear (I mean, how many radio stations played it???). Guess what...the sound on this was pretty bad in itself as well!

There's a post of mine a few months or so back which mentions how I wouldn't mind hearing a CD of this thinking it would at least present the music as it was originally intended to be heard, and thankfully I got hold of this by-now obscure CD reissue just to ease a bit of the curiousity that's been eating at me for awhile. And you know what (to coin a phrase)'s better than I expected. Yeah, there's more than enough early-seventies sophisticado-pop here to date this straight to the days of relevant comic books and the inevitable hippie backlash, but unlike Frank Zappa and like fellow Straight Records labelmate Alice Cooper it comes off much better than one would hope to expect. Buckley's band, besides regulars Underwood and bassist John Balkin, now contained former Mothers Bunk and Buzz Gardner, who outside of the Zappa freak-mill milieu sound like halfway decent free jazzers, nowhere in the same class as any of the serious guys, but still fine even though their West Coast bop slips are showing. Odd time signatures and weird almost FUNHOUSE-ish funk grooves add to the free-rock charm of it all, as does the general esoterica (silent movie horror pipe organ, multi-tracked voices on the title cut used to brilliant effect...). It's no surprise that the general listening audience took to Frank Zappa but not the greater talents he was tax sheltering during the '69/'70 season (besides Buckley, Captain Beefheart and pre-burst Alice Cooper), because this, like the Stooges, Yoko Ono and the Hampton Grease Band, was just too good and too wired for general mass consumption. It's funny...but a few observers during those days (Richard Robinson comes to mind) couldn't wait to tell all of us just how it was going to be this music (along with the Velvet Underground, MC5 and Flamin' Groovies) that was going to take the world by storm in the upcoming decade, a prediction that was about as on-target as the one from the same time stratum that said libertarianism was destined to be the dominant philosophy of the right wing!

Hey, are there any tapes, records or CDs of Buckley's just-post STARSAILOR band with Emmett Chapman on electric stick floating around? This was from a time when Buckley was somehow prohibited from performing live and had to book himself clandestinely into small clubs where the audience's reaction to his avant rock were even more confused! Also, check out your old ROLLING STONE's for a live review of Buckley ca. STARSAILOR where STONE, in their typically befuddled way, can't come to grips with Buckley's new direction. (Also, there's a Buckley TV special that appeared on KCET in Los Angeles from this period [and a tape of it flying around...there are also KCET appearances from Captain Beefheart and {yawn!} Frank Zappa from those days] which that station should DVD for our musical hunger dontcha think???)

Kali Z. Fasteau-ONENESS (Flying Note)-I happened to pick up a number of CDs by Kali Zusann Fasteau Garrett over the past month, and this one's her latest (still working my way through the others, which aren't quite connecting with me at this time perhaps because I get easily preoccupied with other things that divert my attention). You may be familiar with Fasteau through the ESP LP she did with her now-deceased hubby Donald Garrett (THE SEA ENSEMBLE) and though that one never did 100% gel (too percussive-y ethnosplatter for me) I gotta admit that I like this recent disc which also takes the spirit of the sixties "fire music" scene and continues on with the same style and unmitigated energy that drew me to freedom jazz after more than enough rants about it in the pages of CREEM. Some of this does recall the better moments of mid-sixties ESP-dom (Guiseppe Logan comes to mind as do Burton Greene and Bob James on his infamous avant garde trek for that label) as well as the late-sixties/early-seventies over-the-top material that continues to shred braincells even to this day (Alan Sondheim?!?!), and even though Fasteau is the mistress of a whole slew of ethnic instruments and styles this doesn't come off like the soundtrack to a television yoga demonstration. Pretty driving music which transcends a lotta genres w/o succumbing to "World Music" cliches, thank goodness. (I caught this woman at the CBGB Lounge via cybercast playing with legendary free drummer Art Davis about a year ago...there was someone else helping but I didn't catch the name...and Fasteau was in fine form playing cello like she was attempting to saw it in half with her bow!)

Zolar X-TIMELESS (Alternative Tentacles)-Here's a newie, or actually an oldie but since it's just been released it's a newie in an oldie kinda way. Zolar X was this sci-fi based bunch who walked the streets of Los Angeles back in the seventies during the days of glam slam and Rodney, and from what I can tell you they seemed to be absolutely HATED by more than a few people on the "scene" (witness a review written by BACK DOOR MAN's own Phast Phreddie in the pages of SLASH, a surprise since the folks at BDM seemed to hate SLASH with a passion!). I guess that having a band walking around the streets dressed like those blondie blue people on STAR TREK while talking in their own language wasn't exactly the thing that was going to endear them to the record buying populace of the day, and (off the top of my thinned-out dome) if I had to say that there was something that seperated Zolar X from the rest of the outer-space rock groups from the Spotnicks to the Tornados up through Magma and VON LMO it would be that these guys probably tried way too hard to hit the genre on the head and missed, maybe looking a bit too silly in the process.

But they did record, and a whole slew of their studio stuff is now available on this new CD you can now get directly from Alternative Tentacles. (There's also an LP as well.) I guess Jello Biafra was so engrossed by them after seeing their snap in the pages of ROCK SCENE (wow, I never thought that Biafra actually read those same magazines I only perused at the newsstand!) that he actually put this thingie out on his lonesome, and since he's a guy with a record label and pull and I ain't, you can get to see his seventies heroes like Zolar X released while mine rot away in tape collections! And these Zolar X guys are pretty good...I can see a lotta "sophisticated" creeps out there upping noses at 'em, but personally I like their fine mixture of glam pop and outright heavy metal asteroid blast that sorta sounds like the Sweet one minute and maybe a poppier Black Sabbath the next. True there's not any astral flange here to dirtyize the thing like there is with Hawkwind or VON LMO, but I find it good seventies hard rock that would probably appeal to the same people who got into GWAR back in the eighties. The only track I had trouble listening to was the sixteen-minute-plus album closer, but that was probably because I was suffering from astral sensory overload...these CDs can get pretty long sometimes!

DNA-DNA ON DNA (No More, try Forced Exposure)-Interesting collection of DNA from their early days up through their 1982 capitulation. The Robin Crutchfield-era recordings are perhaps the best here even those the dreaded spectre of art pops up more often than not, while the later Tim Wright days, while noisy in their own good way, seem less garage band and more Franklin Furnace, if you know what I mean. I always liked those no wave bands on the lower Manhattan scene that rock 'n' rolled even while attaining an "artistic" result, and believe it or not, but DNA along with their fellow no wavers DID present themselves as rock 'n' rollers on the NO NEW YORK album! I mean, even I had no doubts that I was listening to GARAGE ROCK when I played that one not only then but now because the music had such a connection to what garage bands were doing not only in 1965 but 1978 as well. It was more than obvious even to a dolt like me that DNA and the Contortions seemed to be connected to the Velvet Underground not to mention even the Roxy Music continuum on a garage/punk level as much as, say, the Fans were. Or even as garage rock with a heavy metal bent to an extent, though only VON LMO would exploit that the same way James Chance used rhythm and blues. Later on, when I would spin such bands and their spawn in the eighties (mostly talking about the groups that seemed a little more, er, stiff, like Information maybe?) I felt like I was listening to an art project for some reason. Maybe because this music was becoming co-opted by the same pretentious artiste types who've permeated New York for years it sounded like this but I dunno, at least acts like early Walter Steding and VON LMO always seemed to not forget the rock 'n' roll with the white noise. Who knows, maybe DNA had just become too "hip" for rock by the time 1980 rolled around. Still a very essential disque not only for the early, more cranky material but for DNA's eighties work which does have an ability to rock out at times despite the deca-art angle. But in closing I gotta say that once all is said and done DNA ON DNA makes me HUNGER for all of those late-seventies no wave bands that DIDN'T make it to vinyl (and who were supposedly more primitive than DNA and their NO NEW YORK cohorts) then or now (like Tone Death, Terminal, Daily Life...).

THE BEAT OF THE EARTH (Radioactive, once again try Forced Exposure or a number of mailorder places that deal with these esoteric items)-Too many wisenheimers have been singing the praises of this one, comparing it to the early Velvet Underground which (as you would probably know by now) at least got my b.s. detector dismantled even after years of hearing the hype about how group "X" (or, to be more specific, group "X-tal") "sounds like the Velvet Underground" and all that jive only to hear just another buncha doofs taking the superficial but leaving behind the inner-working GUTS. However, given the 1967 date and recommendations from a few people who aren't complete cretins I decided to be brave and give this oft-raved item a try. Well it', hmmm.............nice............but it doesn't come anywhere near Le Stelle di Mario Schifano, Parson Sound, Les Rallizes Denudes, the Deviants or a number of groups brave enough to tackle the Velvet Underground style back when such an act was one of "bad karma." The platter starts out fine enough, almost like a cross between the EPI-drone period Velvets and the Seeds on "Up In Her Room" with that live cut on the second side of the first Faust LP, but then it gets to the point of cheeziness (and I don't mean in a good way...sorta like in a psychedelic club scene from an episode of GOMER PYLE) with the electric organ chiming pure psychedelic flower power moosh as the band plays along. Things get bad by the time this silly conversation about playing a triangle pops into the mix. Maybe a few spins within a year's time will change my opinions...after all, some of my fave rave platters took a little time to get used to. But for now, I wasn't surprised, moved or shaken by Beat of the Earth at all, though I want to hear MORE (by the early generation of Velvet Underground practitioners, natch! Folks, clean out your tape collections and send it to me IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!).


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