Saturday, October 25, 2014

Drop of Blood in the Bucket - Les Vamyprettes

Outside of "Thriller" there's not much popular music geared towards Halloween, though I'm probably forgetting a ton of stuff as I'm not a fan of Metal music and don't have much time to investigate.  Last year I focused on Slang's album The Bellwether Project, and while that's a really good album its not exactly horror-based.  Greetings from Burkittsville was closer but wasn't always creepy (though that last track was pretty chilling).  Luckily I combed the bowls of my computer and found a group not only explicitly horror-related but also expertly creepy, the enigmatic one-single electronica project Les Vampyrettes.  A one-off collaboration between Holger Czukay of the seminal Krautrock group Can (whose solo electronic projects were already pretty stellar) and producer Conny Plank (who did production on most of Kraftwerk's stuff and Devo's album Q: Are We Not Men...), Les Vampyrettes only existed long enough to release one 12'' single, putting them in the class of Karen Verros and Geechie Wiley who didn't even release a whole album before fading into the night.  As per the oblique moniker, it's not only common but practically industry standard for electronic artists to work under pseudonyms, such as Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, but in the case of Les Vampyrettes the lack of a human face only furthers its cause.  Not that the deliciously unsettling music needed any help, though.

Side One has the song "Biomutanten" which gets things rightly foreboding right away with metallic drumming and a slow bass flange, making me think that tomandandy had the song on their mind when writing the soundtrack to The Mothman Prophecies.  This continues steadily throughout the track, with random sirens, klaxons and screeches peppered along for good effect.  At the center is a deep, reverbed voice incanting what is apparently nonsense, though I can't understand him and wasn't able to find the lyrics online - but does it really matter what he's saying?  He might as well be reciting a lasagna recipe and I'd still have to order express delivery on several pairs of brown pants.  The best information I've been able to find on the single comes from the excellent mp3-distribution goldmine Egg City Radio where, as you can see here, he includes both tracks for download.  The guy who runs it is usually really good at unearthing info on super-obscure artists but he was at something of a loss, aside from a hilariously translated paragraph I won't spoil for you.

"Menetekel" swaps out metal for a swamp, the bass slow-marching along on two notes while underwater beasties burp into your ears.  Somebody forgot to turn of a metronome in the other room and Plank is having a lot of fun warping record scratching and radio noise with the bend dial.  This results in the song being shorter and a little less spooky but nonetheless not something you'd like to meet in a dark alley adjacent to a discount chainsaw store.  Once again I haven't the John Carpenter's The Fogiest what the singer (?) is droning on about, so I'll just have to assume it has something to do with wearing someone's sideburns as coattails.

If there's one thing this record really reminds me of, especially "Menetekel", it's "There's a Planet in My Kitchen", one of the two B-sides on the 12'' single of Siouxsie and the Banshee's cover of "Dear Prudence".  My Dad had this single and the song remains one of the most goofily enigmatic LP's I've come across, but I'll let you make the decision with this handy YouTube recreation:

It's funny how the digi-processed ramblings of potential serial killers can bring back the memories.  The problem with assessing Les Vampyrettes as a group is that they only have two very similar songs to their credit, though that may have been their intention anyway.  Perhaps some questions are better left unanswered, such as how a pair of such spooky tone slabs escaped from the bathouse, and since every re-release of the single has gone under we may never know for sure.  I'm thankful once again that YouTube exists so obscure wonders like this can go straight for the jugular.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Drop in the Bucket - The New Mexicans

Seattle has long been a haven of indie rock, one that I've shamefully stepped into extremely rarely.  I've seen more rock concerts in Boston, but those were for established acts that tour nationally (Tortoise and Lightning Bolt), and maybe my reluctance to pop into local clubs has something to do with not wanting to drop a pile of money on a group I've never heard before (but mostly the cost of parking and driving).  It might also be due to my laziness in following current rock music, so whenever I hear something more up to date that I like I cut another notch in my In Touch With The Kidz pole.  

That being said, let's talk about a forgotten Seattle group whose sole album came out ten years ago, one with a cracked sense of art design:

(People who've seen Ari Folman's The Congress should be snickering right about now)

Founded in 2001, The New Mexicans managed to crank out a 7'' called Coleslawholywar in 2002 and the album I'm talking about today, Chicken Head Talking Diamonds, in 2004 before breaking up in 2005.  Guitarist Rob Hampton and drummer Creighton Barrett ended up in the Grammy-winning dream pop Shins-wannabes Band of Horses while bassist Jeff Montano ended up with Grand Archives, a group headed by a guy who used to be in Band of Horses.  Guitarist Joe Crawford presumably fell off the face of the Earth for how helpful Wikipedia has been in researching these guys.  The internet seems to agree that The New Mexicans technically existed, which is as much as I know about them now and knew back when I found out about this album, when my brother bought it at a garage sale.

In a less kidding mode, Wikipedia helpfully linked to an article in The Stranger that preceded a show of their's in 2003, anticipating the release of Chicken and showcasing some of the most refreshingly humble and down-to-earth stuff I've heard from rock musicians.  Hampton immediately won my respect by admitting straight up that the group sucked before stepping into the recording studio for Coleslawholywar, this revelation coming right after we learn that a record label was created by its owner for the sole purpose to get the fledgling band on plastic.  Finding themselves under the harshest spotlights in town forced the band to whip themselves into shape, and thank God for that because what emerged was pretty dang good if Chicken has anything to say about it.  The other fresh breath is that Hampton was able to talk simply and precisely about their genre, namely Hardcore, a genre I'm no expert on and might have had trouble defining before.  His big motivation was to put melodic writing back into Hardcore music, mostly because he finds music primarily consisting of yelling and fast noise to be boring.  I saw drummer Brian Chippendale live twice, once for his solo project Black Pus and once for his band Lightning Bolt, and for the life of me I couldn't tell you much of anything beyond how his constant barrage of fast punkesque drumming had the ability to lull the listener into a subconscious state, at least if it wasn't so darn loud*.  Hampton's goal seems very smart in this respect, making sure the audience has at least one element they can clearly follow in a song, as that's just the way Western listeners are wired.

Before we begin, I must warn you that the only place in town to hear the album online, Grooveshark, is acting up in terms of embedding songs, so let's try out an alternative: here's the URL for the album:!/album/Chicken+Head+Talking+Diamonds/4365557.  Open a new tab/window and plug that sucker in, and you'll see all 10 tracks, all playable in full.  Ready?  Kewl.  (Also, don't look on YouTube; the risk of letting Nathan Arizona and the New Mexicans out of their cursed toybox is too great to tempt).**

The article was right in pointing out the slight hypocrisy in Hampton deriding other Hardcore and Punk acts for yelling instead of singing when, y'know, he kind of just yells, too.  Thankfully, we can hear all that melodic playing he was talking about in the instrumental parts.  Stripped down and searing, the simple cells interlock beautifully and drive as hard as they can, seemingly on a mission to pierce the setting sun on some hellbent horizon.  Barrett's drumming is outasight, rhythmically intoxicating and a perfect support for the note-borne cells.  It's this carpet of fire and sincerity that supports Hampton's absurdist lyrics, unhinged by any standard and possibly improvised during the first practice session.  Hampton describes them as "add-ons", the parsley applied after the instrumental meat is thoroughly roasted.  In a way the precise meaning of the lyrics don't matter, as Hampton's delivery is so wailing, even terrifying, as to make language itself a moot point.  That isn't to say he's as versatile or inspired as someone like Mike Patton, and the 10 songs end up exposing the limitations of the band's songwriting variety.  Regardless, it's hard for me to dis on a guy who writes a song with a chorus that states "If I was a sailor I'd sail around the world!  If I was an asteroid I'd fall to the Earth and kill everyone!"

So yeah, I dig Chicken Head Talking Diamonds.   The New Mexicans Story is most likely no more complex than a band that hung around for a few years before breaking up out of boredom or disillusionment, and I can't see Chicken rising through the muck of time as a shining beacon of mid-Oughts Hardcore, but that's no reason to leave its stone unturned.  Maybe if I was a connoisseur of Hardcore groups I'd be harder on the group, as there are plenty of groups like Drive Like Jehu and Look What I Found that are way crazier than them, but Chicken delivers melody as well as drive and generally congealed rock goodness.  Summer is slipping through our fingers faster than anybody wants to admit, and while I've been spinning acts like Hoodoo Gurus and Trotsky Icepick all Dry Season long there's always room for the Hardcore Jello.  If you don't feel like wrestling with Grooveshark on this one there's always the supercheap new-'n'-used copies on Amazon to consider.  C'mon, it's not even a half-hour long, you've got enough time for that, don'tcha?  This brevity is in line with their traditionally short live sets, perhaps borne from an awareness that they weren't the most popular kids on the block.  It's too bad more people didn't show up to fulfill Barrett's sly joke that closes the Stranger article: "If more people come we might even play for 29 minutes."


*That subconscious state wasn't worth $15 and and hour of my time, in case you were wondering.

**Just don't, people.  Every YouTube view only encourages them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Donkey that Brays a Sweet Vermouth

As interesting as the Swing Revival of the 90's seemed (and relatively long-lived for fads, lasting the whole decade and dripping into the 21st century), it's had little long-term impact on pop culture at large, aside from fastening fedoras to the heads of awful young men the nation over.  Oh, sure, a tiny handful of bands gained impressive fan bases and piles of cash, the two big ones being the Cherry Poppin' Daddies (of "Zoot Suit Riot" fame) and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but even mentioning Royal Crown Revue will bring most music fans to a screeching "Huh?".  That being said, for somebody like me who isn't an expert on Swing Revival bands, encountering a band like Donkey, who were most likely tangential to the movement  but could have only seen widespread success within its confines (not that they did), is an interesting moment.  Formed in Athens, GA, Donkey was the house band for The Point, a nightclub in Atlanta that is now a clothing store, and they released two albums in the mid-90's (or three if you believe Amazon lumping in the '97 album Stroke My Wings Gently by an unrelated indie rock band).  They crafted a unique mixture of Swing Revival, the Fine Young Cannibals, and Steely Dan-esque lounge rock in their brief time in the sun, and came to my attention primarily as a dollar CD at In Your Ear in Boston.  The value of their album Slick Night Out is inversely proportional to the amount of information about them online, and considering their Allmusic entry is only two sentences long you can take my word for it that it's a dang good time.

Donkey was never really meant to be seen on a national stage, and in that spirit Slick Night Out is a live album, capturing a typical, yet gleaming, night at The Point with everybody's favorite music boys.  As much as we all adore Thad Jones's big band from the 70's it's easy to forget that they were the Monday night house band at the Village Vanguard, and their songs could be heard any given Monday simply by walking there.  What gives Donkey their beauty is that they seem free to explore many different avenues, maintaining a healthy allergy to pigeonholing.  "Phantasmo del Gato" seems almost Tom Waitsian in its bar-music synthesis, with the guitar solo at 1:00 ripped from whatever glorious universe Progressive Rockabilly exists in.  This quality is kind of hard to detect on a song-by-song basis, but maybe a song from their second album, Ten Cent Freaks, will help:

Many of their songs possess a rock intensity and focused songwriting that jazz is so very good at eschewing.  Jazz's most individual quality is improvisation, and Donkey never much bothered with extended solos, instead finding its drive from the vocals of founder T. B. Ferster, a voice more akin to Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page than a stereotypical crooner, the latter of which was a prized possession among Swing Revival bands.  As is the case with obscure groups the most interesting songs of theirs never make it to YouTube, so I can't play you one of their rockiest and most musically interesting songs, "Sweet Vermouth".  The one that immediately follows it, "Baby Mae", is of course fully available-

-and Ferster has slipped so much into Steven Page's singing voice I thought I was hearing "Brian Wilson" all over again.  The song also illuminates how well a horn section fits into a rock context, a lesson you'd think we already learned from Blood Sweat & Tears but we apparently forgot.  While every member of the band does click Donkey never really raised their voice, perhaps because of their nightclub gig but also due to a wisely laid-back persona reminiscent of the Grand Saturday Night.  This is probably the biggest factor that kept them from the big time - as well as the fact Slick Night Out was released on Georgia-based Steam Records, though I have no evidence they released anything other than this album.  The live recording lacks the booming presence and polish of a bells-and-whistles studio recording, and "Zoot Suit Riot" will always sound better on your car stereo because of equalized, overcranked levels.  Donkey seemed masters of the club stage, and while I'm glad their stuff was captured on disc ripping them from their small pond may have done more damage than good.  I also like that they weren't going for an artificial gloss like the other Swing Revival groups, rather stretching out into their own little groove - and that freedom ensures its relative timelessness, while Swing Revival may seem more and more embarrassing in the future.  Slick Night Out won't become your favorite album or change the way you look at rock, but it's a great CD for your next party and is a welcome alternative to the more dated 90's music that gained more fame in its time.  Take Donkey in slow and deep, like a fine single malt, and you'll do just fine.  And hey, what bar band do you know that got their own music video (before YouTube, of course)?


Monday, November 4, 2013

Drop in the Bucket - Inflatable Boy Clams

While many rock groups remain obscure that doesn't mean info on them is difficult to find, and nearly any group you've never heard of has a fanbase waiting in the wings to tell you all about them.  Inflatable Boy Clams isn't one of those groups.  Their sole EP is a bizarre anomaly in rock music, akin to the Shaggs covering Siouxsie and the Banshee's "There's a Planet in My Kitchen", then playing it reverse.  I was considering swapping the "Post-Punk" tag for "Post-Music", and I haven't even played a single track for you yet.  Just listen to this:

I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes*.  Writing about these guys is a unique challenge, and the only suggestion I have is to keep an open mind.  I can only assume the name is nonsense, and that trying to decode it will result in a nice long stay in a padded room with a Chinese finger trap for sleeves.  The best information I've been able to find is on this helpful site dedicated to the group's EP and unraveling their mystery.  It's actually a little shocking to see that people made this - I would have assumed it materialized from the Mongo Dimension.  The four women went on to play with other obscure San Francisco Post-Punk/New Wave groups like Voice Farm, The Pink Section and Longshoremen, but I have no idea how they formed, except to speculate upon back-room plots conducted in their private loonspeak.  I have a theory about what they're going for, but I'd like to play another track just to be sure:

The fansite includes a section called "Stories", and at the top Jojo Planteen, one of the members, wrote a poem about the group that includes the line "sounding like 10-year-olds."  The songs are all purposefully sloppy and seemingly improvised, and the singing and instrumental skills all point to a massive dose of "cute".  After I thought their Post-Punk credentials were dubious, it hit me that the album works best as the tape a bunch of 10-year-olds would make in imitation of their favorite Post-Punk band.  "I'm Sorry" infers a demented sense of humor akin to the bantering inside the piano in between bouts of music on Frank Zappa's album Lumpy Gravy.  This can't be seen as unintentional, Shaggs-style, because everybody involved is an adult, and from what I've gathered from stories about the band they considered it a goofball art project.  While "Skeletons" may have been borne out of Halloween memories, "I'm Sorry" seems to refer to the complaints and stories that fly around female friend circles, so analyzing the group as an airtight conceptual project is a lost cause.

The EP is one of those odd cases where I can't explain what it is or whether or not I like it, but now that I've experienced it I can't imagine a world without it.  It's a credit to democracy that something like this can exist, and I can imagine most listeners getting annoyed after 30 seconds (like I did with Cibo Matto**).  The fansite wasn't created by a hardcore fan, but rather by somebody like me - a curious listener who stumbled across the album not knowing what it was but in the mood to find out.  I'm glad they got in contact with some people involved with the group, as that can be a rare experience.  Inflatable Boy Clams shouldn't be viewed as anything more than an object unto itself, making a home outside of trends and fashions.  I'd be tempted to call it a brilliant piece of outsider art if I didn't know the members' pedigree.  If you don't like any of it I certainly can't stop you, and maybe that's what they wanted.  This whole article may have been a waste of time, but I certainly had fun speculating and any chance I can get to link to their songs is a good chance to me.

The only way to end the article is with the last song on the EP, "Snoteleks".  I'll let you guess what it sounds like before you listen.



**PSST!  Don't tell anybody that I don't like Cibo Matto, they'll revoke my Music Critic license!  I'm not kidding!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Mixtape of One - Cleaners from Venus

The vast and woolly cassette-only underground scene of the 80's is one I've been aware of for some time but haven't had nearly enough patience with Rapidshare to deal with.  The original tapes from these acts are scarcer than De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis and can best be described as Sonitus Portis* (portals to noise).  My interest in noise music is somewhat lower than many of my colleagues, so well-loved blogs like Mutant Sounds and Die or D.I.Y. haven't been touched by my browser in some time.  However, some bands are too lovable to remain confined to boom boxes, and one of the few cassette-only bands to have gotten several CD reissues in recent years is the Cleaners from Venus, the flagship of Martin Newell, "the Wild Man of Wivenhoe."

Formed in 1980 and unraveled late in the decade, The Cleaners from Venus could have been one of the most promising Post-Punk acts in England if only they'd broken past the cassette barrier (aside from one German LP, Under Wartime Conditions).  Newell's songwriting is a haven for jangly guitars, charming effects pedals and tape trickery, varied and rich lyrics, his likable, Thomas Dolby-esque singing voice, and one of the best nostalgia bombs I've yet encountered.  Their albums sit at just the right mid-points between seemingly opposed qualities - clean vs. crunchy, room resonance vs. cramped spaces - and makes a case for the best of all of them.

A big part of what made 60's Garage Rock so appealing was the fact those songs were recorded in cramped rooms such as basements and living rooms, and one second of a Cleaners song confirms that juicy attribute.  The guitars are pure Post-Punk, warbly and harsh just the way Mission of Burma likes it.  Some of their albums use a drum set, others drum machines - it makes no difference, as each incarnation is equally enjoyable.  All of this comes together beautifully under Newell's songwriting, a reminder of why classic rock songwriting works so well.  Newell isn't trying to break new ground or distort rock to get a message across - he's mastered the Old Ways and he's going to give it everything he's got.  What really separates his work from the rest of the crowd is the novelty and sophistication as to where and how he uses various chords and colors, as well as his clever-yet-sincere lyrics, exuding an easy eye for rhyming and the yearning of a summer evening in the world of youth.  There's almost no point to describing all this, because one go-'round with albums like Under Wartime Conditions and Midnight Cleaners is all the convincing you'll ever need.

In my article on James Ferraro I talked about the modern trend of manufactured nostalgia, and while Ferraro's work never comes across as sinister you can't help but feel a bit hoaxed at the Memory Machine and its dubious product.  The Cleaners from Venus comes from a different world entirely, and listening to their songs transports the listener to a state of Nostalgia Nirvana even if they never lived in England in the 80's.  The above song, "Drowning Butterflies", has become one my favorite songs ever, not for innovation but for its capture of Warm and Fuzzy lightning in a bottle.  It's a loose-yet-pristine portrait of sunset-lit melancholy, and the guitar solo at 2:45 ranks among the best ever for its purity of pathos.  I've played this song to friends and their reaction is always to lean back into their chairs with wide grins on their faces, basking in the light of a long-ago summer crush they never had.  Cassettes have always been a subpar music medium, and their utility in making mix albums for friends and significant others has endeared them immensely in the popular imagination**.  Their obscure fidelity and compact size ensure their cuteness factor, and finding songs as catchy and smile-inducing as Cleaners tracks on a tape sends society's I Want That urges through the roof.  It's excellent how much attention the band's gotten recently, and I hope the reissues stay in print for long enough for cheap used copies to make their way into my collection.  For the impatient, Egg City Radio, one of my favorite music blogs, uploaded three of their albums, including the two I've sourced tracks from for this article, right here.  The season of nostalgia has begun, and I can't think of a better compliment than one of the most likable unknown bands of the 80's.  And because it's Sunday, here's "Wivenhoe Bells II" to play us out (the connection's in the lyrics, I promise).


*I expect my beating from Latin scholars to come in the mail within the week.

**In the latter half of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, the primary group of friends is talking about a mixtape given as a gift to one of them by her boyfriend.  Another woman in the car says, "Wait, he gave you a tape, not a CD?  That's so romantic!"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recalling My Eves Through Slang

There isn't much Halloween music out there, aside from Thriller and Monster Mash.  There are some great horror-themed classical pieces but they're reserved for another pair of blogs I run - and aside from that the only thing left is horror movie soundtracks, which are largely free from the pressures of repeat listening.  I'm not sure why there isn't much of a market for scary popular music, and there haven't been too many groundbreaking hits from the past few decades to sway the market in its favor.  I guess it makes sense in the same way it makes sense there isn't a lot of Thanksgiving music - the holidays that have their own music are Christmas and Easter, and they have the ancient and bottomless liturgical repertoire at their beck and call.  Halloween's origins are much more distant to modern celebrators, and the concept of scary music evolved in its own enclosed space.  That being said, many people associate certain artists, albums and swaths of music with Halloween for various personal reasons.  Arbogast on Film, one of my favorite movie bloggers (now sadly finished with reviewing), did a post many years ago on a short-lived 90's band named October Project whose two albums he played every Fall.  He admitted that some may feel the music was too "precious or pretentious or twee"*, but it perfectly captured the moods and textures of Autumn in his heart, and inspired a particularly beautiful piece of descriptive writing:

"...they really do communicate for me the exquisite electric sadness of Fall in general and October in particular. In their harmonies I hear the scratch of dead leaves swirling on the upwind and sense a bit of wood smoke in the air."

In trying to come up with a good Halloween post for this blog I was struck with the fact that Halloween is primarily an anchor of memory, much like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Most of the proceedings revolve around children who, being drawn from the existential drudgery of school with the lure of the fantastic and unnerving, inhabit a unique state of wonder wrapped up in macabre make-believe and pageantry.  Much like the subject of the cover of October Project's debut album, the magic of Halloween lies not in what it is but rather what it infers, in the moment and in the recollection of all the moments prior, and a child's costume can't possibly communicate all the emotions and sensations the Eve has to offer.  No two Halloween histories are alike, and mine doesn't have as strong a connection to a particular music as Arbogast's, but there are a couple of things that spark my synapses this time of year.  One is David Darling's incredible album Journal October, but the one I'm going to write about today has a certain distant, lost feeling about it that has endeared it to me - Slang.

Slang was the brainchild of Layng Martine III, an engineer and mixer based in Nashville, and the album's music was created by him and Widespread Panic bassist David Schools along with a large cast of Not Ready for Dick Clark Players.  Though the liner notes to their first album, The Bellwether Project, say next to nothing about the genesis of the group, it's easy to see from song titles and the sound palette used that their inspiration draws from the music and landscape of the South.  Martine's father, Layng Martine, Jr., was a country songwriter who scored some Top 10 hits in the 70's, and the influence of the Down Home is hard to miss, though filtered with a great deal of taste and restraint through modern electronica techniques.

The Bellwether Project holds a special place in my heart as it was an album that, much like Seks Bomba's Somewhere in this Town, my father purchased after hearing about the group on NPR, probably the most press they ever got in their seemingly short lifespan.  I've had some trouble finding detailed information on Slang as they only released two albums across four years (the latter release, More Talk About Tonight, dating from 2004) - as with many electronica entities, such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, maintaining a personal face for the music isn't a priority.  I feel that electronica is a genre that feeds off the relative anonymity of its authors, a mystique of distance and unnatural inception, and the often eerie and haunting music of Slang is drenched in this fuel while keeping an Earthy tangibility via acoustic sampling.  It's also music very much of its time, taking cues in digital technique from late 90's/early 00's chillout and lounge electronica, somewhat like the briefly successful group Ivy** but much more cock-eyed and funky.

If I had to pick a genre for this kind of music, aside from the overly broad and slightly irritating Electronica moniker, I'd have to settle with the vaguely-defined Chillout genre that includes such disparate groups as Zero 7 and Bonobo.  Slang never felt a need to raise their voice or break their grooves, and while many groups thrive on that crisp energy it may have kept Slang from breaking farther up than they did.  However, that implies that they had any interest in that, and I can't make a case that Martine and Schools wanted anything more than a small-scale project to experiment with the fractured side of a back porch.  I wouldn't have it any other way, as a lot of past albums survive on their inception in the minds of the Lone Inspired, such as Vyto B's Tricentennial 2076.  The album art is a superb counterpart to the music, a recollection stuck in between moments of waking life, as electrifying as it is unanchored from context.  It's connection to my nostalgia is impossible to describe fully except to hold up nostalgia on a pedestal, and in that way holidays like Halloween will survive for as long as its celebrators raise children of their own.  If you decide you don't connect with Slang as deeply as I do that's just fine - everybody's got their own October Project and the variance of those memory touchstones*** is what makes human life worth remembering.  Your Halloweens will always be yours to keep, and if you let Slang in you can consider it a small gift from me to you on this finest of Eves.  I'm going to spend this Halloween holed up with some of my favorite horror flicks, including the unbelievable Eyes of Fire, so if I don't see you I wish you a very Happy Halloween.


*Allmusic's entry on the group was somewhat suspicious of the whole thing, slapping them with the unfortunate label of MOR (Middle-of-the-Road) Goth Pop, terms that cause a blistering of the skin among savvy critics.  My favorite sentence is the final one: "The trick to enjoying October Project is to simply not take it nearly as seriously as it takes itself."

**This might not count for much, but the song I've linked here was used in the opening credits to the Stephen King-developed 2004 TV miniseries Kingdom Hospital.  It's more a mark of the times than anything else but I still get a healthy wave of nostalgia every time I hear their Long Distance album which features this song.

***This really doesn't count for much, but I'll always remember the word "touchstone" as being introduced to me by Touchstone Pictures, the studio behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, and if there's a stronger force of nostalgia in my psyche than that movie I don't know what it is.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Drop in the Bucket - Mogul Thrash

Drop in the Bucket is a new series, created for the exploration of groups that only released one album before disbanding.  These lonely discs, often riveting and sometimes mysterious, are the sole eternal output of an enormous range of artists that are more often than not left in the dustbin of history (dollar CD racks).  Drop in the Bucket aims to investigate as many as possible, taking the good with the less than good, and giving these artists the consideration they deserve, because even getting one album out there is quite a feat.  And who better to start with than one of the best-named: Mogul Thrash.

Mogul Thrash was a British progressive funk rock supergroup, formed in 1970 from members of such bands I've never heard of as Electron, Colosseum, Splinter and Brotherhood.  The most recognizable name is John Wetton who would go on to found such groups as Wishbone Ash, Roxy Music and Asia*.  I'll save you some search time and point you to the best information on the group I could find, an interview with member James Litherland (who as in Colosseum).  The name apparently comes from a spoof of a British TV show called the Michael Miles Show by Spike Milligan, where he would wear a fake nose and be called Mogul Thrash.  I think this band should be less spoken about and more listened to, so on with the songs.  Soon after forming they dropped this single:

Miles Davis fans should spot at least a passing similarity to "Freedom Jazz Dance" there.  Damn, that's a hard beat drop, and the horns just sell it.  Why horn sections don't show up in rock more will forever be a mystery to me.  Anybody who insists that every group in the early 70's was on drugs needs to shut up for a second, because you can't possibly be sub-sober and pull this off.  They actually released this after the album had come out, flying in the face of most debut paths.  There other tracks included saxophones to great effect, another indicator that Pink Floyd had the right idea with Wish You Were Here:

There's a fine art to minute-long noodle, and Roger Ball here has it down.  The soprano saxophone is an unusual sound in rock music, and the groove it drops in to is unparalleled.  All the tracks are groovy as all heck, bringing early 70's prog to the front steps of the hard groovers with ease.  It's a fantastic album, one for all seasons and moods, and it invites repeat listens with memorable hooks and digressions both distinctive and nicely concise.  As far as single albums go this is the one to do - hard-hitting and sumptuous.  As the CD's get a bit pricey used, somebody was kind enough to put up the whole thing on YouTube so you to can thrash mogully.  More entries are to come, so hold on to your socks - they will be blown off.


*One particularly funny bio I found said that Mogul Thrash was primarily of interest to Asia fans.  Just think about that for a second.