Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hi! Got a few good 'uns for you this time including the Josef Vondruska double disc whammy I promised I'd get to you eventually, so without any further pissing and moaning about this miserable life of mine...

Josef Vondruska/the Dom/Umela Hmota III-ROCK 'N' ROLLOVY MILACEK 2-CD SET (Guerilla, Rybalkova 1140, 440-01 Louny, Czech Republic)

Better late than never comes this review of a double-whammy archival dig courtesy of none other than noted Prague man-about-the-underground and punk rock hero in his own right Josef Vondruska. Although the name will probably mean squat unless you were one to endlessly troll not only this blog but my own BLACK TO COMM fanzine, Vondruska was (and perhaps remains) an important figure in the growth and development of Czech underground/proto-punk rock, first as the co-leader of Umela Hmota, a loose aggregate consisting of various Plastic People of the Universe acolytes and Wild Man Fisher aficionados and later as the head of Umela Hmota 3, the group that Vondruska formed after he and fellow member Alfred came to loggerheads over some pro-heroin ditties Vondruska wanted to introduce into the UH canon*. (A rift between Vondruska and lead singer Dino developed about the same time causing  the group to fracture with the other guys becoming Umela Hmota 2 and Vondruska and his new group going under the nom de Umela Hmota 3, I guess because it was all coming from the same lineage.)

Umela Hmota 2 were eventually honored with their own double-CD set a few years back and thankfully now it's Vondruska's turn, a momentous event in the realm of rockism considering that his very existence on the Prague underground scene was roughly equivalent to what such minds as David Roter and Tuli Kupferberg (to use two recently over-used examples) had done in New York City back in the sixties. A rock poet and associate of Plastic People lyricist and noted figure in his own right Egon Bondy, Vondruska was a seventies visionary individual whose ideas and boffo rock influences (Velvets, Detroit, El Lay '67...) figure heavily into the Umela Hmota 3 sound and overall sense of anarchic beauty.

If you can, dig into your BTC back issues and spin the compact disque that came with #22...besides finding one Umela Hmota 2 track that was passing as an example of the original melange (who were a pretty messy, Godz-primitive group at that) there are two Umela Hmota 3 inclusions (as well as a couple by Vondruska's later Dom who we'll discuss further down the road)  that should whet your appetite for his 'un. In fact, they're all included in the collection and in much better sound quality considering Guerilla didn't have to rely on low-grade TDK cassettes with third-generation dubs for their masters.

If you enjoyed the UH 2 release you'll definitely get a big bang outta this. Although similar in many ways to Vondruska's brother-band in their love of various US sixties watermarks of the o-mind UH 3 were a much harder, driving aggregate that I believe could have held their own stacked up against most of the mid-seventies Amerigan underground attacks of the day. And although both acts shared the same proclivities for bashing out primitive rock on shoddy iron curtain gear UH 3 seem to have their controls set on an even heavier, more electrically-defined late-sixties punk path than Dino and his bunch.

If you ignore the thick Czech accents, both of the Hmotas could have easily passed for an obscure 1970 Detroit/Ann Arbor MC5 spawn, but UH 3 sounds even closer to the John Sinclair-honed  taproot to the point where you'd at least would've expected 'em to have gotten an opening slot at the Grande. UH 2 well, they'd just have to settle for the junior high circuit of which there certainly is nothing wrong---look at it as UH 2 and 3 being the same concept yet tackled with different modes of how to express the same primal proto-punk urge that overtook quite a few many bored youth back in those best/worst of times days.

The tracks that appear were taken from two shows, the first batch from a Decemeber 1975 at an underground club called the Labyrinth from whence those BTC tracks came,  while the rest came from a '76 appearance at this gathering of the New Czech Generation festival at Bojanovice. As for the Labyrinth show two of the tracks here had originally appeared on the Cee-Dee that came with issue #22, albeit in lesser fidelity. In fact, you may remember the wild proto-punk FUNHOUSE funk of "Demon Alkohol" not to mention "Konec Sveta" ("The End of the World"), a ditty which sounds particularly 1977 English punk rock in its spit-out-the-vocals hard glory, at least until the end part where, after Petr Ragan's violin solo (!) the group breaks into this classical coda straight out of Frank Zappa! Talk about a time warp in musical influences!!!

Of course you have, if you in fact are a tried and true believer, already heard those via the aforementioned BTC disque and probably cherished them to high heaven if you're an even truer believer! But you sure as shootin' ain't heard such classics as "Negistoty" ("Apostles") which was sung by none other than guest vocalist Egon Bondy himself bedecked in a monk's robe moaning the lyrics to this Aktuel (Czech Fluxus spinoff whose own reissue on Guerilla remains unheard by this reviewer) number which comes complete with a '69-era flute solo that would have sounded more in place on some Harvest records sampler. "Zase na Ceste" (no, I don't know what that means) will make your ears do a double take, a song that surprisingly sounds (melodically and structurally) a lot like the Stooges' "I Got Nothing" if Jack Benny sat in on violin. I must admit that Petr Ragan really knows how to utilize his instrument of choice in surprising ways, whether it be as a scratchy noise-maker on "Konec Sveta" or theremin-esque wails and whoops on "Nemoce", and despite, lack of finesse with the violin his performance compliments the UH 3 sound rather swimmingly if I do say so myself.

For me the biggest surprise was the disque-closer "Radsi Bycli Byl z Kanene"  ("I'd Rather Be Made Out of Stone"), a number I've been wanting to hear ever since I read about the group's Bojanovice appearance in the booklet that accompanied the Plastic People of the Universe's EGON BONDY album way back '79 way. The description of this outright show-stopper made mention of how much it was influenced by the Detroit high energy style (I must say that I really gotta wonder about how anybody behind the iron curtain would have even known about this movement unless a certain January '69 issue of TIME somehow got smuggled in!) and in many ways the song could have made it as a set closer for the Stooges with its total hard crunch flop and Jirka Mares' pseudo-Ron Asheton lines. Kinda wonder how the audience, who might have turned up for folk singer Charlie Soukoup for all I know, took to this one. Well,  they did seem rather appreciative! Kinda makes me wish that CREEM had a correspondent stationed in Prague.

By the late-seventies Vondruska was heading up the Dom, a group that although also having Ragan as a member bore little resemblance to UH 3's midwest punk ravings. This new grouping was more attuned to the then-current English-inspired punk mode with a look to match even if some of the members were still stubborn enough to keep their long hair and grubby flared jean attire. The music had more of an experimental tinge to it, Cramps-y in some ways and perhaps the perfect fodder for the Rough Trade label during their early creative peak if this had only leaked out of Czechoslovakia somehow. And with Vondruska's deep and thickly accented vocals the results can be akin to listening to Bela Lugosi (OK he's Hungarian, but us Amerigan slobs can't tell the difference!) singing with the Raincoats!

A peck of demos pop up here (some which also appeared on the BTC Cee-Dee which I'm afraid has become obsolete given how most of its contents have been reissued in its wake) as do highlights from some live shows including one at a punk rock festival in '79 which makes me wonder what other similarly-attuned aggregates were playing around Prague at the time! And yes, there actually is a tune called "Brown Sugar" on here but it ain't the Rolling Stones "chestnut" as they say but a totally different cranker that ends with that particular phrase perhaps in reference to the original...I dunno but it's still a real ear-opener!

Some notes about the packaging...the enclosed booklet is once again (as with the UH 2 and DG-307 releases) printed on cheap and flimsy if slick color magazine stock, though unlike the other Guerilla releases there ain't the bevy of rare snaps like the kind that showed Dino and some friend in Soccer gear with the friend sporting a home made Fugs t-shirt. Just lots of collages, lyrics and a few snaps of Vondruska in UH 3 kinda looking like Ron Asheton in aviator shades as well as one from Dom when he clipped his hair in order to be "with it". The real offense however is the cheap double jewel-case which has a spindle hole so small that unless you open the thing very carefully the disque will fly outta the case and perhaps get scratched in the process. Sheesh, and I thought that production quality was gonna go up once the commies got kicked outta the burgh, but given some of those cheap-o cars they still crank out I guess things are as broken down over there as they ever were!
Andreas Brandal-DISTURBING THE DUST CD-R (Kendra Steiner Editions)

This Brandal feller's a Norwegian composer who, like just about every other act to pop up on the Kendra Steiner label, dabbles in experimental soundscapading utilizing a mix of both natural and electronically-created sources. I guess his work is well-known, enough that there must be a plethora of releases under his name on a wide range of labels that cater to the new avant garde so even if you don't know who he or or that he never even recorded for the Columbia grey label Brandal is a name that just ain't gonna go away any day soon. Anyhow this KSE release is a decent enough sampling of his work...dunno how he exactly creates this melange of drones and clanks but it is inspiring in its own way. Reminds me of some of those late-seventies experiments I used to hear about where natural music was in fact created from various forms of modern sculpture being exposed to the elements, or at least what I envisioned the resultant music to sound like. May be too heady for you but it's there for the taking (or at least buying).

A certain figure on the late-seventies Cleveland underground "scene" summarily dismissed some lukewarm interest I had in Pearls Before Swine after reading a positive aside regarding a then-recent Eyetalian reish which appeared in the pages of OP. That's probably the only reason I steered clear of the 'un until a good three decades later because...nowadays things are so threadbare in this once-heavily rock and roll world of ours that I pretty much AM grasping at straws for a new high energy fix, ifyaknowaddamean...

Not that Pearls Before Swine weren't a high energy rock act...far from it...but I figure if I'm going to have to sit through a platter of some disaffected college boy's hipster mewlings maybe the old stuff is way more digestible than the new breed of instant altruism that's been packaged to us as "independent music" for way too long a time. And besides, sometimes these old ESP folk romps could have more of a bared-wire intensity to 'em when done in the proper fashion and the introspection didn't quite get in the way. A good thing because when it did all we ended up with were a whole lotta James Taylors and Joan Baezes who gave forth with enough introspection to put the entire pharmaceutical industry out of business.

But really, I found little to get hopped up about here. Mostly the tracks that make up the group's entire ESP output are of the inward-looking folk rock variety, nothing rotten mind you but still rather slow and trodding. One could only wish that singer/songwriter Tom Rapp and company could have whipped up some really hard rock scrunchers and scattered this material amidst a good twelve or so albums, for they are decent enough. But two albums of this complete with the typical avant garde archival recordings,  tape squeals and other bits of whimsy that got stuck in really didn't make for that enjoyable of a sit-down even if I will admit that Rapp's neo-Dylanesque singing and songwriting skills are whatcha'd call above average.

Nothing wrong with it, but Pearls Before Swine just stayed in first gear for the duration. A few more spins might get the message across but (**yawn**) I do feel kind of sleepy right now. Maybe a few bars of RAW POWER'll get me back in the swing of things...

*This is something that for the life surprises me, because in no way shape or form did I think anything along the line of any narcotics let alone heroin could even make its way into an iron curtain country! Goes to show you the all-pervasive powers of the free market, and I do mean it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well i couldn't get past the lithp i'm afraid
[mr unreconstructed]