Shades Of Gray Like A Melted Penguin
by Thomas Schulte
Outsight brings to light non-mainstream music, film, books, art, ideas and opinions.
Published, somewhere, monthly since July 1991. Feel free to re-print this article.
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News And Views
Giving You The Benefit Of The Dub
Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble (PiL, etc.) sprung upon the world in September a missive for the dub massive: Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission (ROIR). The album also features Bernie Worrell, Karsh Kale and Abdou Mboup. The protean, organic, slow-beat sound of this album is an escapist headspace for the headphones set. (I am taking it in with my Sony MDR-7506 Professional pair as I write.) Also on ROIR and making a nice match is the album from Dub Trio entitled Exploring the Dangers Of. Somewhat more exploratory and eerie, the young white guys in this trio offers a virtual sonic tour of the spooky caverns crisscrossing the earth beneath Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio.
Roll Out The Redbone
Rounder Records released six classic Leon Redbone albums back in July and August. The mysterious bluesman (who to me looks like comedian Don Novello and they even work the same events) is responsible for delightful and entertaining music drawing from early country and ragtime styles. Songs like “Dancin’ on Daddy’s Shoes” and the whimsical “When I Kissed That Girl Goodbye” on Whistling in the Wind showcase the humor and light melodies of Redbone’s particular brand of nostalgia. There are a lot of talented guests on this album, such as guest vocalists Ringo Starr (“My Little Grass Shack”) and Merle Haggard (“Settin’ by the Fire”). On No Regrets, the particular, cheeks-full affect of Redbones intonation seems a blend of Louis Armstrong and Dr. John on this jazz and Western swing album. On this album, compare Redbone’s album-closer “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” to Elvis Presley’s take. Guests include Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas. Hank Williams, Jr. shows up on Red to Blue for a little banter before “Lovesick Blues”. This is one of the many gems from the past that Redbone reincarnates. Hank pere as well as Patsy Cline and many others previously did “Lovesick Blues”. The second installment, released in August, was made up of Sugar, Up a Lazy River, and Any Time.
Each month I try to find a CD or two sent to me that is perfect, soporific audio to drift off to sleep to. Mind, you this is not a slam against the CDs. Indeed, I am recommending them for relaxation. This month Kranky, which has a lot of titles that fit the bill, offers Loscil and The Dead Texan. “Loscil” — doesn’t that sound like a prescription-only sleep aid? The gentle, fluid grooves of the chill-out electronica of First Narrows is mostly excellent to meet with the sandman except for “Mode” which has a peculiar, high-pitch squeak to it that sort of breaks up the album’s mood. The self-titled album from The Dead Texan is even and subtle as a large tract of undeveloped land in The Lone Star State. This is sweeping, surreal, cinematic space music (as in wide open space) from guitarist Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid, Aix Em Klemm). But what about waking up from such blissful repose to dive into the mad rush hour to the day job? For emerging from the shadows in the harsh glare of the day ready to compete I recommend Shadowland by The Deep Eynde (Disaster). This is some motivating, urgent rock in the tradition of The Cult and Misfits.
Z’s Of A Different Flavour
Cherry Red‘s successful collection of outsider music of Songs in the Key of Z is being issued as a 2-CD set with Volume 1 and 2 together. Among the would-be music makers exposed on this collection are Wesley Willis, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Joe Meek, Tiny Tim, The Shaggs, Captain Beefheart, and more. A book by the same name written by outsider music authority Irwin Chusid is also available from Cherry Red.
Shirts For A Cure Project
The Syrentha Savio Endowment sister Website www.shirtsforacure.com features limited edition band merchandise from various bands to aid SSE in its efforts to provide funding for chemotherapy and other medication for underprivileged women who cannot afford the growing expense of fighting breast cancer. Thrice, Hot Water Music, The Bouncing Souls, Good Riddance, and Taking Back Sunday are some of the growing number of bands who will be participating. These exclusive designs will only be sold online or at SSE events, and will be available for a limited time. Says Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge, “In buying a shirt, your money is going directly towards helping people in need, and by wearing the shirt, you’re increasing awareness.”
Things You Want To Read
Taboo Tunes: A History of Banned Bands & Censored Songs (Backbeat Books) is a treasure trove of facts and trivia about the often-losing battle fought for free speech in music. Musician and author Peter Blecha backs each paragraph with a heady density of factual information, names, dates and more, making this read educational and enlightening. Songs and albums that have been banned if not altered litter pop music and underground music history and Blecha gathers from those incidents to compile a fascinating story that touches on Billie Holiday, Frank Zappa, Sheryl Crow, 2 Live Crew, and more… Guestlist: Precipice Compilation Volume 2 is a hopefully ongoing project from Patrick Ogle (Precipice Recordings). The zine and disc package offers reading material from the helpful (finding a job when your band does not work out) to the funny (starting a cult when all else fails). The accompanying CD is rare, one of a kind, unreleased and out-take material from Lovespirals, Chris Connelly & William Tucker, Thanatos and more on a 16-track CD… “A History of Secret Human Experimentation in the US” covers medical and germ warfare experiments secretly done by our government since the early ’30s. This is just one of the many articles that will make you sad if not scared to be an American in the latest edition of The Justice Xpress (formerly North Coast Xpress) (POB 1226, Occidental, CA 95465 or email@example.com)…The new tour into the low brow from Rob Cohen and David Wollock is out on Penguin Putnam. It is the follow-up to Etiquette For Outlaws, Been There, Done That! Such subjects as childhood, sports, sex, travel, spirituality, crime and punishment, booze and drugs are covered and you can compare yourself to icons of wild or eccentric living such as Ozzy Osbourne, Albert Einstein, Hunter S. Thompson, James Bond, Babe Ruth, the Marquis de Sade and others to see how you stack up. Cohen and Wollock have worked as writer-producers on Fox-TV’s The Complex: Malibu and MTV’s Punk’d, among others.
JEF Films/Music Video Distributors
It is commonly known that The Beatles arose from the “Merseybeat scene”, but most would be hard-pressed to identify any other participants in that movement. This collection of two video programs (Swinging U.K. and U.K. Swings Again) contains such Merseybeat participants as The Merseybeat and Liverpool’s The Wackers. This is all pretty tame stuff, not like digging back to hear The Beatles howling “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” in Hamburg as everyone delivers the goods on a fine line between swinging and being a Monty Python skit on the scene. There is good stuff here from Millie (the petite singer that gives a whole new spin to lollipop), The Animals, Lulu & The Luvvers and more. (3.5)
Live in the Land of the Rising Sun: Japan 2003
Somewhat wistfully and with a very dry sense of humor, an older and wiser Devo return to Japan a quarter century after their last tour there. The set list of the paper-suited band includes “Girl U Want”, “Mongoloid”, and “Freedom of Choice”. Interview clips break up the footage of the arena show. Bonus tracks material includes more extended interviews with band members as well as vault video footage from 1980. (3.5)
Bukowski at Bellevue
Screen Edge/Music Video Distributors
This unearthed video footage is a rough little document of Bukowski delivering his edgy and downbeat barfly poems to college students in a small room in the spring of 1970. If you have ever seen the underground GG Allin video Spoken Word at Primal Plunge, Boston, MA May 5, 1989 you will know the stage management and venue style I speak of. Hank reads a dozen of his autobiographical skid row odes, at times with apologies. Among the standout pieces is “The Lesbian” which I could be convinced was an inspiration to the Talking Heads urban legend song “And She Was”. (4)
Pick a Winner
Most of the time, I find Load Records release to be a load of shite. It is often complex layers of bleeps, the multiple exposure view into the minds of talentless hacks. At other times it is harder than 10-day-old Cream of Wheat but twice as tasteless. The funny thing is, many of the artists here may not disagree with me. Anyhoot, the DVD portion of this DVD and CD set ties it all together for me and now I see the light. The primitive graphics that looks to have pushed the limits of a Commodore 64 and video of playing with dolls all blends nicely. This unified vision of infantile creativity offering the cathartic and the cornball says more about all the commodification of sound art than a whole book of musicological punditry. (3.5)
The title is a nod to the great saxophonist Sonny Rollins, but Burtner’s saxophone gives us whistles and drones more than the round tones and melodies Rollins delivered on that excellent jazz primer Saxophone Colossus. Burtner here treats the ear more to improvisation on the use and shape of the sax perhaps more so than improvisations on a melody. “S-Morphe-S” is landscape-wide palette of tone coloring done with “singing bowl soprano saxophone hybrid computer instrument.” The 9-minute piece is disembodied and floating. (4)
Über-bassist Rob Wasserman here provides us with a rich, three-disc set exploring his output in solo, duet and trio configurations with one ensemble form per disc. Duets and Trios previously came out separately and earned Grammys. This set contains those two as well as Solo, a collection of acoustic bass pieces. Wasserman possesses a talent that can exist in a wide spectrum of styles. He had been a member of the Grateful Dead side project Ratdog for years as well as working long term with Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Van Morrison. Other than Van, all those associations are captured here along with (duets) Rickie Lee Jones, Stephane Grappelli, and Aaron Neville as well as (trios) Willie Dixon, Neil Young, and Marc Ribot. These three discs brought together: “trioly” a thing of beauty. (5)
Three Hundred lb. Weasel Records
Part political punk (“Evil”), part demented disco (the Mutant Press classic “I’m Ultra Black”), the zany world of Jerome T. Youngman enters another episode of topical assaults such as “Guantanimo Shuffle” (sic) in a spirited, guitar-driven assault on mediocrity. Some of the pieces are personal, such as “Valium” and “Welcome to the Orphan Club”. The variety of moods and textures adds depths to this album where that mad music maker Super Jerome does all sounds and voices. (3)
The Joy of More Hogwash
Martin Gordon, formerly of the California pop band Sparks, delivers a solo album with a great sense of humor. It is about time someone paid tribute to the flood of Spanish Prisoner spam offers as Gordon does here on “(Oh No, What Shall we Do?) Daddy Lost his Head in a Coup”. Gordon explores the love songs through various levels of comedic metaphor in “Fuss Me” and the computer hardware themes “Plug ‘n’ Play”. What this is all about is pop for the sake of fun. It is music that is infectious, accessible and undeniable. Fun stuff, and you want some of that. (3.5)
Symptome — Dei
This obscure electronic classic of Mellotrons and other tone-benders emerged from France in 1978. Like a cross between Wendy Carlos, The Residents and Stockhausen, this album stands as an early foreshadowing of underground and pop experimentation with electronic music. This is a must-have if you appreciate early Tangerine Dream, Tonto’s Exploding Headband and that other French creation, Magma. The instrumental music and wordless songs of this album are a wonderful world of the weird and eerie.
Shortstack calls its music “doom country.” This old school hillbilly sound with modern electric blues and gothic overtones can also be heard on the Slim Cessna’s Auto Club release The Bloudy Tenent Truth Peace (Alternative Tentacles). Shortstack vocalist Adrian Carroll and Slim have similar heady and quavering voices that add to the full-custom fearful sound. (3.5)
Voluccris Avis Dirae-Arum
Gearheads will want to know this recording features aluminum guitars custom made by Greg Bailey as well as real Moogs. Other than that this angular, challenging recording is mostly of appeal to the narrow segment of CD collectors that are on the lookout for old Skin Graft recordings, like Flying Luttenbachers. Call it progressive hardcore of edgy experimental art music or what you will, but this instrumental album sounds like a science fiction soundtrack run through the blender with King Crimson and offers nothing to hum to. If you need to be freed from the tyranny of melody, this may be the key to freedom. (3)
HaHa/What Are Records?
This is a collection of live, acoustic guitar comedy songs from Stephen Lynch. Comedians have the necessary and healthy role of saying in front of others what we would not say ourselves. Lynch not only goes farther than most (the c-word, incest and graphic pedophilia all are included), but also is as funny as the best. The hilarious album includes the classic Lynch song “Bowling Song (Almighty Malachi, Professional Bowling God)”, among his safest. (4.5)
Victory at Sea
Keyboards and violin give the melancholy indie rock here that haute-hip chamber pop feel as well as a full and rich dynamic. The smoky voiced Mona Elliot is a fitting complement to the treble-heavy music. While none of the music stands out in a particular catchy or memorable way, this is recommended if you like Black Heart Procession, June of 44 or Shipping News. (3.5)
Play Pretty for Baby
Play Pretty for Baby is some swinging noise rock that at times sounds like NoMeansNo, as on “Free Radio” and “Paratroop Disco”. However, the band is at its best when the anvil-heavy tunes are rather funky in a James Chance/Contortions kind of way, as on “You’ve Asked me to Come all the way Here for This?” (3)
Open Mouth, O Wisp
On this recording, guest musicians augment the trio. This includes members from Deerhoof, The Flying Luttenbachers and more. The organized and directed clamor may be a feat of logistics to keep together, but the effect is one more often challenging than it is musical. A trio that was once three-fourths of Colossamite recorded this mostly instrumental album. There is one track with vocals, due to guest vocalist Tennis Saya. (2.4)
If you read closely the themed club nights for the opportunity to mindlessly dance around the floor pushed by the repetitive beats of The Cure, etc. in a mental puddle of well drinks, well there is a band out in L.A. that can do all that for you live or on disc. Be introduced to Layton and climb aboard the synthpop wayback machine. (3)
Bleep, bleep, blurp and bleep. That is the sound of the electronic noodling that characterizes this generally irritating CD. Occasionally, the duo will do something really smooth and melodic, like the languid keyboard lines of “Circuits and Clay” only to force in the video game detritus like some station bleeding in that cannot be tuned out. (2)
The New Transit Direction
Wonderful Defense Mechanism
I need a wonderful defense mechanism that would allow me to respond diplomatically and politely to each formulaic and predictable indie rock CD that crosses my desk. Since I have not yet developed such a mechanism, I can only say that the post-punk angst comes out of this CD like something over-processed, homogenous and bland squeezed from a tube. (2)
Hard Times for Dreamers
See Venus is delightful, bubbling indie pop with lead female vocals from Rocky Ordoñez. Tasteful additions of cello, flute, percussion and more in the additional instrumentation department give the already hip sounds some sophistication. The music here is easy on the ears like gentle curves and pastel hues. (3)
Susan & The Surftones
Night in Old Town
Susan & The Surftones is a bright and shining star of a surf revival band that looks back to such groups as The Ventures. The guitar instrumentals here shine with organ-fueled and fuzz guitar energy. However, the delivery is in no way ostentatious or technically splashy. The mood here is a bit dark, one would say noir. All this is not overwhelming and fits nicely on the tribute to the Old Town of Portland, Oregon noted in the liner notes to be “the location of the Shanghai Tunnels where drugged victims would literally be dropped off the barstools into the tunnels and wake up on the high seas…” Now the area is home to “Drag queens, punks, homeless, misfits of all types…” These are suitably acknowledged in the cover of “Chinese Rock”, one of the many covers on this rugged and reliable surf rock album. (3)
This eight-song CD from Supatones should go over well with fans of No Doubt that would like a bit more of the ska sound. This third-wave ska group has a rocking, post-ska core approach but still plenty of horns and some brassy lead female vocals. The mix has one foot in the No Doubt style while recalling more trad ska female led groups like Hypocrite and also recalls the Skatalites and friends collaboration Tricia & The Supersonics Miss Jamaica Meets The Skatalites (Moon Ska). (3)
This is a project of Elephant 6 collaborator Davey Wrathgabar. The acoustic guitar-led music throws pointed barbs at the American political process, but the music is so fun and upbeat it hardly seems right to call it protest music. This recording also features Jason NeSmith (Of Montreal) and Derek Almstead (Of Montreal, Circulatory System) and a rapping George W. Well, Dubya appears to be an unwitting participant in an EBN-style cut up called “Dubya Speaks”. This unplugged political topical album is a cross between Violent Femmes and Billy Bragg. (3.5)
Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 8
Bridge’s survey of the works of George Crumb continues with Volume Eight featuring Makokosmos, Volumes 1 & 2. Robert Shannon ably performs the 24-piece cycle. This series of works on astrological themes treats the keyboard as merely one part of the sound-making possibilities of the instrument. In addition, Shannon must whistle, speak, and sing to fulfill the score. This CD also includes a premier recording of “Otherworldly Resonances”. The work for two amplified pianos has a slowly played four-note motif upon which bright, colorful fireworks of sound erupt. (4)
Unearthing this gem of pre-punk science fiction glam is an excellent entry into Alternative Tentacles’ Re-Issue of Necessity series. Like an extraterrestrial version of The Monks, this group’s members wore their costumes onstage and off along with suitably alien hairdos. The music is shades of Spinal Tap and with all the dedicated camp, it seems the world is a poorer place without a documentary on these would-be aliens. At least we can thank Jello Biafra for compiling this collection of UFO-inspired album cuts, non-album songs and more, twenty tracks and all. (4)
I Am the Fun Blame Monster
The indie pop on this album is experimental, protean and piano-based. This is the first release I have ever seen inside a hand-packaged flipbook. Interestingly, most of the songs were composed with “Deeler”, a computer program written by the band’s Brent Knopf. Says Brent, “It’s a loop-based program that facilitates improvisational recording.” Step in the stream before the river moves on. (3)
This is an album that has dropped out of the work for the band’s previous Money for Soul album and work for the upcoming album. We have here four covers recorded but not used for Money for Soul and added to that six covers recorded later. The ’60s garage groups paid tribute to here had an influence on the revival garage sound of Baby Woodrose. Bands covered include Love, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Sonics, and The Stooges. (3.5)
Six Organs Of Admittance
Strange Attractors Audio House
Six Organs Of Admittance, a.k.a Ben Chasny, presents two, twenty-some-minute guitar odysseys. More psychedelic than folk yet more deep than hippy-dippy, the incense scent of Eastern raga drifts over the music without becoming a cloying curry too heavy to be pierced for access to the headspace inside. The CD, a reissue of the original vinyl, is best enjoyed with headphones while floating through the universe only buoyed by one’s favorite floor-scatted pillows. And this is all in the first piece, the title track. Go extraterrestrial on the solar system travelogue that is “The Six Stations”. While playing Egyptian mode music, Chasny “plays”, via the stylus, the sun etching that appears as the music-less B-side of the original vinyl issue. (3.5)