Monday, December 19, 2011

TOMMY McCOOK Blazing Horns/Tenor In Roots (BLOOD & FIRE)

The new Omar Souleyman double LP Leh Jani is the first release on the Sham Palace label, which is Mark Gergis's own subdivision of Sublime Frequencies, which is an interesting move in that I could see Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet also with their own subdivisions as each of the three do seem to have a distinct area of interest. Anyway, there has been a lot of Souleyman releases by now, so far be it from me to suggest that you may still need more, but Leh Jani just might be my favorite one yet, even though it only has 3 songs on it: the 30-minute title jam split onto Sides 3 and 4, with two more 15-minute jams taking up Sides 1 and 2. Apparently this music made up a C60 that was one of the first Omar cassette releases that Gergis procured on a trip in Syria. He excerpted a few minutes of "Leh Jani" onto Highway to Hassake, Omar's auspicious 2007 debut CD for Sublime Frequencies, but now the entire cassette has been cut onto 12" vinyl at 33RPM and it's a lot of fun, the title track being a totally driving and upbeat chanter in which seemingly about 75 different bouncing and ripping keyboard and electric bozouk solos get exchanged, by Rizan Sa'id and Hamid Souleyman respectively. I swear it never gets monotonous, and when either side of the record ends I instantly want to flip it over. I think the reason the groove stays interesting for 30 minutes is because of how sensuous, light, and airy the musicianship on top of it is. (See also: Can.) The other record features more of those insistent dabke grooves, with "Introduction/Mawal" having a slower tempo, and also a lot of talking, presumably because of the "Introduction" aspect.

When in doubt, jam "Danger Bird." 

It's always funny to watch otherwise intelligent people who aren't from Nebraska talk about bands that are from Nebraska. When the subject is broached, they suddenly turn into self-parodies in a stumbling race to make the first joke about cornhusking and/or lack of electricity. I'll agree that Nebraska is not a premier musical hotbed, but you must admit that great bands can come from there. How can an engaged rock music listener deny The Boys? The Crap Detectors? For Against? For the love of god, Power of the Spoken Word?? This last band of antisocial miscreants released a single LP in 1985, called The Language of a Dying Breed, and if they'd come from California and released this record on SST, or come from DC and released this record on Dischord.... but never mind all that, this record is from Lincoln, Nebraska and was released on the band's own label Sacrifical Records. The stunning "pagan hardcore" cover art by Mott-ly (who, full disclosure, is one of my favorite people of all time, RIP) certainly looks a lot more like something from the deep Great Plains than it does either of the coasts. Also, the bass player was named Tree. Just Tree. As for the music, it's post-Void mutant hardcore, one of the few bands I can compare to the early Meat Puppets, where bass and drums tear through frantic rhythms, ripping dirty guitar solos spill out indiscrimately, and the singer is basically a DMT elf. Add to that a more stern and gothic metal crossover undercurrent (Die Kreuzen and Voivod are other reference points) and a whole bunch of that Great Plains isolation x-factor, and you're close.

Speaking of SST and ripping dirty guitar playing, I feel like there's been a few bands lately, from both here and there (okay mostly from Olympia, WA), that have been doing a kind of scratchy proto-grunge late 80s early 90s Homestead/SST-informed dirt-rock kinda thing. Not that I really know what I'm talking about, but Gun Outfit, maybe? Long-Legged Woman? Milk Music? The seven or eight better examples that I'm sure you can come up with? All I'm saying is, throw Pregnant onto the pile. Am I still speaking English? Yeah, I'm just talking about a band from New York City that I haven't heard too much about, other than a mention in Tony Rettman's Rettsounds column that seems like it might've been a whole year ago. Maybe it's because of their name! Pregnancy and rock just don't mix. Anyway, their medium long-playing (just over 20 minutes) debut finally came up on the iPod and it's really good. Anthemic rollicking yearning melodic tunes driven by big guitar chords and vocals that cut.   

Alright man, chillin' at home, Monday night, hard day at work, havin' a hard time with my lady, you know I gotta put on that new How To Dress Well album.... Ha! Just kidding! It came up on shuffle! First time I've listened to it since the week it was released! Things are fine with my lady and I! But seriously folks, it seems like the hype on this guy didn't really continue past 2010's fabled "Summer of Chillwave," but then I don't look at Pitchfork very often. Maybe it did continue, or maybe it just wasn't that great of an album... to me, the guy seemed a little like a one-hit wonder, that hit being "Ready For The World," which still sounds fantastic. I got the album on the strength of that tune, but the rest didn't connect with me, just kinda hovered at a too-chill remove. Now I've got it on headphones and it does sound better and closer. The songwriting still isn't super strong, but I appreciate the meditative R&B angle a lot more than I do "beach pop" or whatever. He's not a bad straightforward soul singer, although it's kinda hard to tell because his voice is low in the mix, distant, often (as in maybe a little too often) overdubbed into lovely angelic chorales.

If you want a good dub album, get Brand by Keith Hudson. I mean, first get Keith Hudson's Pick A Dub, but if you already have that, Brand is also the kind of dub you hear in your dreams. Unlike Pick a Dub, it has a lot of Keith's own idiosyncratic and gravelly roots vocals dubbed in, which is a caveat for some. His vocals are very heavy with a real wrecked and gravelly emotional quaver, and sometimes are best in small doses even if you like them, which is why Brand is perfect. In other Jamaican news, I've grown to really love the combination of horns and reggae, especially those jazzy vintage horn solos that sound like they're blown in by a warm and salty sea breeze. That's why I'm finally massively getting into the Skatalites and early offshoots, such as anything with saxophonist Tommy McCook's name on it. This Blazing Horns set seems to have been recorded at the later end of the essential 1970s roots era, apparently at Yabby You's studio. Yabby You's stuff is always rock solid but after the 1977 Jesus Dread cut-off there's something a little too clean and sparkly about it... but maybe it's just me, and either way McCook blows lots of lovely solos here, so I won't complain. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

LEE PERRY Wizdom 1971-1975 LP (ASCENSION)
SKOAL KODIAK Kryptonym Bodliak LP (LOAD)
FACTUMS Gilding The Lilies 2LP (ASSOPHON)

It only takes a few seconds of introductory wah-wah guitar vamping for "You Know" by Stone Coal White to register as one of the most dusted late-night funk jams ever recorded, and that's before the moaning falsetto vocals come in and really make the case. You might've heard this track already on the Chains & Black Exhaust compilation from 2002, which was released without a track listing. "You Know" was the last jam on the album before the epilogue & encore, a perfect closer/cool-down/nod-off, and one of the last of the then-anonymous tracks to be identified by the message-board headz. No wonder, because Stone Coal White was an extremely underground band from Dayton, Ohio, more or less the wild and loose house band for a shell-shocked motorcycle gang called Bad to the Bone, and they had such a funky live show that their fliers often required a "Rated X" next to their name. They only released two 45 RPM singles, in small pressings, somewhere very deep in the early 1970s. For the preservation of "You Know" alone, and the other tracks released on the two 45s, this new record is essential, but one possible reason why the band didn't release more material when they were active is evident: things get reaaallly loose on here. A scorched warm-up jam called "Warm Up," humorous Curtis Mayfield goofs, special-guest soul sisters belting unhinged gospel, a Bill Withers cover, that type of thing... like Funkadelic, despite grim trappings, the band had a lot of fun.

I already thought single LPs by Factums were too long, with too many foreboding and severe tracks stringing too many lumbering dystopian synth riffs one after another, so how am I going to approach a double LP with 29 tracks?? It's not that I dislike this band... I think they're pretty awe-inspiring. I have no idea how they assemble these synth-punk Frankenstein monsters one after another, and I just can't process their material except in small doses, which they seem to rarely offer it in.  This release looks and feels real good (nice paper selection, nice typewriter art cover), and it's certainly as good of a place as any to start trying to comprehend what they're up to. Just be prepared, pack an extra lunch and bring some ibuprofen!  

Just popped by the internet to see what the kids were into these days, and before I knew it I had listened to the whole 24-minute debut album by Iceage, twice. When they toured the U.S. this summer, I never actually heard their music, but I heard quite a bit about 'em, which made 'em sound pretty good, and it turns out that in fact they are. Right from the brief industrial noise intro I was hooked, and they held me throughout 11 more songs of dark and rather frantic Danish teenage punk that skips around unpredictably through emotional flourishes, strange harmonic choices, and a gnarly reverbed-out twin-guitar sound. All presented in a way that does not wear out its welcome, which gives you time to think about what you heard. Canny aesthetic moves abound... for one thing, they inherently understand that the best thing you can do with a black metal influence in 2010 is to not play black metal. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Serious jam by these West Oakland ladies live in 1974... don't miss the drum solo!

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