Thursday, 26 December 2013

Henry Rollins - Hot Animal Machine (1987)

Aside from the TV Party single and a few other things half heard whilst hanging around on YouTube, I'm not that familiar with Black Flag other than as the band with which Henry Rollins was involved before he ceased to be involved with them, so there's a strong possibility I'm coming at this like the man who reviews a Ringo Starr album without having heard any Beatles records; but fuck it...

I guess after the break up of Black Flag, Rollins found himself having to carve out new channels by which to vent his fevered work ethic, and so Hot Animal Machine should probably be regarded as the transitional effort of an artist firing off in all directions and seeing what happens. The rockier numbers, or at least those paying more obvious dues to Chuck Berry, sound roughly as you might expect coming from a former member of Black Flag - muscular, hard, funky rock although with more of a garage sound than the metal workouts that would later characterise the Rollins Band formed with Chris Haskett, who also handles the guitar here by the way. The other tracks veer off into jazzier territory, soundtracks to monologues of the kind with which Henry kicked off his spoken word career, and are actually fairly similar to the sort of material that ended up on Short Walk on a Long Pier.

It's all powerful, but somehow the range of styles is almost too broad, resulting in something resembling a compilation album. Black and White or Followed Around sound pretty much like the Rollins Band, whilst other tracks have more of a Stooges feel, and the more conversational numbers roughly suggest someone or other was listening to those early Swans albums a lot. The effect is further emphasised by the inclusion on the CD of the Drive-By Shooting EP as recorded under the name Henrietta Collins & the Wifebeating Childhaters - harrowing Gira-esque sound poems, a cover of Wire's Ex-Lion Tamer, and a title track which could easily have been the theme song from a Cliff Richard film but for the subject matter:

We're gonna get in our car,
We're gonna go go go,
We're gonna drive to a neighbourhood,
and kill someone we don't know.

The variety is disconcerting, a group of songs - or at least tracks - which don't quite fit together, like finding a straight cover of Little Red Corvette on Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with any of the tracks individually - indeed there's not a weak number here - only that one listens to some of them in quite different ways to others, and it makes for a strangely uneven album compared to later efforts bearing Rollins' name.

Still, I'm not complaining. The rockier numbers are as intense as anything he's ever recorded, the gut-busting black humour is in full effect, and the front cover is drawn by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, so what's not to like?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Aphex Twin - ...I Care Because You Do (1995)

So here I am catching up once again, having a listen to things which somehow passed me by at the time. Obviously I was aware of the Aphex Twin throughout the 1990s. He regularly appeared on the cover of everything on account of having single-handedly invented an entirely new kind of music. I was a Melody Maker reader for most of that decade, mainly because David Stubbs' Mr. Agreeable column was a work of genuine inspiration, something not to be missed regardless of whatever crap was then clogging up the other pages, The Liberties, The Shite Stripes or whoever. My frustration with the non-Stubbs derived content of said weekly would occasionally boil over into testy and probably grammatically ham-fisted missives thrust in the general direction of the letters page, one of which was actually printed. Why you no write about experimental band, I demanded to know, reeling off a list of names of artists who had been around for ages, who sold records, had plenty of fans, played well-attended gigs and yet remained ignored within the pages of the mainstream music press. We do indeed cover the work of interesting and innovative musical pioneers, came the reply, but the bold leaps of which you speak are occurring on the dance floor and within the DJ booth rather than with the sort of miserable industrial fuckers you seem to like.

I always assumed they meant Aphex Twin and his ilk, but I'd never heard any of his music. My friend Carl, once thumbing through my copy of Melody Maker, found a photograph of a grinning Richard James pulling a scary face, underlit and glowering at the reader from beneath portentously furrowed brow. 'That tells me all I need to know about his music,' Carl announced, and although he may not have been right about everything, in this instance I suspected he was close. My friend Andrew Cox was similarly underwhelmed by the Aphex Twin. Andrew was often described as a recluse, had grown up in Cornwall, and had been making electronic music with his own home-built synthesisers since the end of the 1970s, and was perhaps justifiably resentful that no music paper had ever stuck him on the cover as creator of the most wildly innovative music ever conceived.

Now, many years later and relatively impressed by the Come To Daddy video - even if it is just an old Hellblazer comic with a load of drum and bass sprinkled on top - I take the plunge and buy this; and  realise that I was right all along.

There are twelve tracks here, and nothing terrible, but - fuck - it's hardly a new kind of music. The names that sprang immediately to mind include Esplendor Geometrico, Nagamatzu, Pseudo Code, Nocturnal Emissions, Human Flesh, Kopf/Kurz, early Chris & Cosey, and Konstruktivists Black December album. In other words there's very little here which hadn't already been done, and been done better by about 1982 when the German Datenverarbeitung label put out their Sinn & Form compilation. I realise that nothing exists in a vacuum or without precedent, but most of ...I Care Because You Do could have been knocked up on a decent four track with a monophonic synth and an Alesis Quadraverb, and there's at least one number here which would have been someone tapping out a plinky plonky nursery rhyme on a Casio VL Tone had it not been drowned in a ton of reverb. I suppose this stuff may have sounded improbably futuristic in 1995 if this was the first electronically sourced album to find its way into your collection of Oasis and Morrissey records, just as fifth century yokels will believe you're a wizard if you flash your digital watch, but fuck...

This is the guy who changed the musical history of everything ever, whom they wheeled out to meet Stockhausen like it was some sort of clash of the titans rather than Michael McIntyre having a beer with Lenny Bruce? I prefer James' own assessment:

I'm just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music.

Well, hyperbole aside, ...I Care Because You Do is a thoroughly listenable album providing you keep in mind that it really shouldn't have been that big a deal even in 1995. It does what it does very well, which is fair enough, I suppose.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Professionals - I Didn't See It Coming (1981)

As a kid, the Sex Pistols were roughly the first group I discovered that weren't the Beatles, Abba, or the Wombles. I recall my dad talking about some pop stars who stuck safety pins through their noses, and I remember one sunny day when he came in from the afternoon's milking chuckling about a song he'd heard on the radio called We're So Pretty Vacant.

Arf arf, my mum conceded and we all laughed.

Then my friend Sean showed me his Sex Pistols record, the one with the cartoon of Sid Vicious on the cover and Friggin' in the Riggin' on the other side. I was thirteen and that was more rude words than I'd ever heard in my life, plus I was intrigued because I couldn't quite work out if the band were real or not - which is probably thanks more to Sean and myself giving his Wombles album such a hammering than the cartoon on the cover. In any case, all I knew for sure was that I had encountered magic of some description. Clearly the music industry held the same view, milking the Sex Pistols cow for every last drop, every last variation or loose association; and I was fascinated by the Adrians Records mail order catalogue with its own special Sex Pistols section featuring rare discs by people who had once made some sandwiches for the band, or who simply had a picture of Sid Vicious on the cover of their single - not such a worthless exercise as you might think given that 99% is Shit by the Cash Pussies turned out to be pretty damn great, and just the sort of thing that the idiotic McClaren probably thought he was doing.

The Professionals were of course what Steve and Paul did next, so naturally I awaited the fruits of their labours with punky anticipation; although it's sobering to listen to this stuff now and realise that it's probably how the two of them hoped the Sex Pistols would sound, had McClaren not tried to turn them into the New York Dolls - basic power pop roughly in the tradition of the Kinks, Small Faces and so on. This shouldn't be taken as an indictment, reducing the pair to Lydon's backing band as some might have it. Steve Jones' guitar sound remains pretty much unique even thirty years later - a great big burping Cockney steamroller of noise somehow aspiring to the sort of music that works best in fast cars. It actually sounds nourishing, good for the soul in some way.

I Didn't See It Coming is a weird album, and one that admittedly should have been better: great, punchy, anthemic songs produced as though someone was hoping for a spot on one of those John Hughes film soundtracks, the sort of thing with a scene in which Michael J. Fox rolls up the sleeves of his suit jacket and leads American teenagers in eighties dancing upon the hoods of cars stalled in a gridlock, cars driven by squares who don't understand young people. Steve Jones was ever a bit of a singing bricklayer when it came to vocals, but the production here makes a futile effort to smooth out his rough edges leaving the poor sod sounding like a backing singer on his own record. This CD reissue also includes the earlier Professionals singles - on which he sounds much better - and which are pretty hard to fault. He was never the greatest vocalist, but on the other hand, there's not many that could get away with:

We all know how it ends,
For the rock 'n' roll Hollywood God,
Found by one of your friends,
With your head flushed down the bog.

So, it's smoother than it probably should have been, but even given all of the above, I Didn't See It Coming is still a thumping good collection; another one to add to the list of things that need remixing by Steve Albini.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Pump - The Pump (2009)

The Pump were the group which became Nocturnal Emissions, or at least Nocturnal Emissions were The Pump without Daniel Ayers, brother of Nigel who soldiered on under the NE banner for most of its natural life and about whom Discogs says:

Influential and uncompromising, Nigel Ayers chooses to remain underground even as his ideas are continuously appropriated by ambitious pop culture surface dwellers.

I've a feeling Nigel may actually have written that himself, but he's probably earned the right over the years, not least because it's roughly true - whether by coincidence, foresight, or actual influence, Nocturnal Emissions seem to have foreshadowed the mainstream on quite a few occasions, and it's a shame he hasn't received a little more recognition considering all the talentless fuckers out there busily taking credit for things they never did.

Nocturnal Emissions seemed pretty astonishing when they first began putting out albums, and I vividly recall the excitement in getting hold of Tissue of Lies - then not so easily done as buying, for example, Prince Charming by Adam & the Ants from the local WHSmiths - and having no fucking clue what the thing was going to sound like. Even given all the tripe that has since been churned out in the supposed name of industrial music, I've still heard very little that sounds quite like Nocturnal Emissions, which should be surprising as they were in the early days one of the few groups to whom one might legitimately apply the term by virtue of records which sounded like some automated industrial process, as opposed to - off the top of my head - a man softly whining into his acoustic guitar beneath a poster of Adolf Hitler upon which is inscribed he never done no wrong in Japanese characters. Nocturnal Emissions were noisy, but a long way from the artfully manicured noise of Throbbing Gristle with all those swirly bad acid trip sounds, more like grating urban cacophony roughly bolted into a shape resembling music, or at least art - just a racket at first, but after two or three plays it begins to sink in, just as you hear music in the automated rhythm of machines if you work long enough in a factory. It's often more like something channelled than composed - the diseased consumer spirit of western society, the true noise which reveals Second Annual Report to be a Pink Floyd album at heart; and it all started here with The Pump, remastered and reissued, which is nice as I never got around to buying the cassettes at the time. Some of it sounds a little more basic than Tissue of Lies or Fruiting Body, presumably having been originated on cassette recorders, but it's very clearly derived from the same fountain of filth. This is a weird and outstanding collection.

Available from Klanggalerie and Earthly Delights