Archive | Inexplicable Albums RSS for this section

Immersion In 24 Hours Of Throbbing Gristle: A Post-Industrial “Soul Train”

gristle

Left to right: Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, Genesis P. Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Chris Carter

I’m writing this introduction several days after starting what I’ve termed “The TG 24 Challenge.” The idea was to listen to the Throbbing Gristle live box set, “TG 24” in a 24-hour period.

For those who are unaware, the album consists of 24 hours of music from this groundbreaking industrial group. Tackling it all in one attempt has long been a desire of mine. Spoiler: I don’t quite make it in one go.

Anyone who doesn’t know or care who Throbbing Gristle is are required to watch the following video. It should give you a pretty good idea of their ethos: confrontational, difficult, noisy, and atonal music that verges off the beaten track often to become, essentially, raw noise.

The group members consisted of Genesis P. Orridge on vocals, bass, and violin. His (then) wife Cosey Fanni Tutti on guitar and cornet. On synthesizers, samplers, and all sorts of sonic madness is Chris Carter (later husband of Cosey) and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.

Each group member went on to weirder and wilder things: Genesis later founded the prolific Psychic TV and is currently attempting to fuse the genders with a variety of surgical enhancements. Cosey and Chris formed Chris and Cosey to explore slightly poppier directions while Christopherson formed the beloved and similarly prolific Coil with his partner John Balance. Sadly, both Peter and John have passed away.

throbbing

Moments of levity while shooting the cover to “20 Jazz Funk Greats,” an album which featured no jazz or funk: check out Peter on the left being “sleazy”

In fact, each band member’s non-TG albums far outweigh their albums as a band. If one is to ignore their reunion albums (they’re not bad, but essentially pointless to their legacy) the band released no more than four studio albums and played less than 40 total shows. However, their live work is perhaps their most important legacy and it has been cataloged in a way that even Dead Heads would envy.

That’s because the band has literally released every live show they’ve ever played. The first 24 hours are contained on this box and the next 10 are released on “TG+.” I’ve never heard of another band doing something like this, but it is understandable: more than any other group I’ve heard, these guys possessed a fantastic live chemistry that created shows that were shockingly different from the last.

The band did have limitations. First of all, none of them were really musicians. Genesis’ technique on bass sounds like he just picked it up for the first time and his violin work is aimless. His vocals consist primarily of off-key screaming, speaking, or synth-garbled gibberish. Cosey’s guitar work sounds like somebody with boxing gloves playing with an amp that is constantly feeding back. Chris and Peter come across best here, but often drift into raw sonic terror.

Then again, they were experts are overcoming their obvious limitations. The bass lines are often foreboding and ominous, creating a structure for the band to build on. The violin playing can be surprisingly eerie and subdued at times while the vocals build tension. Lack of technique aside, Cosey is legitimately a noise guitar goddess, creating an unholy racket that has to be heard to be believed: her cornet playing, while simple, does the job.

Meanwhile, Chris (mostly doing the heavy lifting with the synthesizers) and Peter (focused mostly on the samplers) alternate between providing a structure for Genesis and Cosey to react against or dropping into raw dissonance that is still shocking. Set lists seem completely improvised on the spot, with the band sometimes falling into recognizable songs, other times just exploring pulsing synthetic repetition.

What is shocking is that the band plays off each other like expert jazz improvisers and I’m not even exaggerating. A typical show starts off quietly, with Chris providing a synthesizer background. Peter lays some creepy samples on top while Genesis starts improvising vocally. It all builds up as Cosey pulls out all the stops on her guitar playing. Everything roars like the universe until it suddenly drops into near silence. Nothing remains but sampled voices describing horror.

saxphone

If you have friends who love jazz, play them TG 24. Watch them stop being your friend. A great way to get people out of your house!

Obviously, this isn’t going to be for everybody and it often wasn’t even for me. But I made it through all 24 hours and plan on tackling the last 10 at a later date. Not just yet: nightmarish industrial noise is a bit too on the nose for me after that silly election on Tuesday.

During each hour (which translates to one full show, even if the show is short and you have to listen to audience members talking for five minutes) I kept notes on my impression of that show. They have not been touched or even proofread so as to keep the “real raw” nature intact.

I’m also not going to touch on historically important moments in the band’s history: that’s not what this is about. If I am inaccurate in my show listings (I’m going by what I found online) then please let me know in a polite way and I’ll correct it.

throb

Just push play.

Hour On: London – October 10, 1976

The first hour I’m handling relatively well. This first show is recorded like garbage and the only really identifiable instrument is Genesis’ thudding bass and some synthesizer drones and some echoing vocal lines. Listening to this stuff while writing, taking a shower, or contemplating the hopelessness of modern society is highly recommended!

So far, my mental state is pretty strong. Genesis’ screaming vocals are hard on the brain, I admit, but the noise they produce remains impressively brooding. I am also impressed by their ability to react to each other live, though their instrumental skills were obviously technically limited.

I am sure, however, that I will eventually find it harder to manage this. The day is sunny and bright, the weather is warm, and later I might take a walk along the beautiful path along the lake which lies next to my apartment. With headphones on blasting Throbbing Gristle, of course.

Hour Two: Winchester- July 6, 1976 and London – August 21, 1976

Vastly different introduction to show two so far. While the bag of tricks TG integrated into their musical style could sometimes seem limited, they knew how to rearrange them in unique ways. For example, this show is introduced by some rather foreboding synthesizer wind sounds by either Chris or Peter. Genesis plays a two-note bass line that uses his obviously limited technique to its best effect.

While the first show came out with a somewhat “faster” approach when compared to this (with Genesis starting the show by claiming it was some sort of “post-cultural collapse” or some nonsense) this one immediately sets a deliberately frightening mood. Too bad I didn’t try this on Halloween…Cosey joins in (I think?) on scraping “rhythm guitar” that mimics Genesis’ bass line. This is my impression just five minutes in, so I’ll take a break to engage with it more.

Remains doom 15 minutes into the thing. Bass remains plodding and the synthesizers play noise. The textures have changed subtly, though, in an organic way that shocks me considering, as I’ve mentioned, their incompetence. I don’t have a headache yet, but I’m sitting here imagining doing this endlessly.

They are 22 minutes into the show and they haven’t spoken a word. This is doom metal without heavy guitar riffs. Cosey just played a sharp and shocking chord: she’s been muted throughout. 40 minutes in and Peter and Chris are pulling off some very disorienting and dissonant synthesizer moves. Very high-pitched, loud, and hard to listen to. Oh yeah. I got a lot more of this coming. Where’s Cosey?

Hour Three: High Wycombe – February 11, 1977

Aggressive distorted bass and guitar scrapes highlight this one. Genesis comes out singing quickly. Stop and start structure here: he screams, pounds the bass, stops to say something, and keeps going. Oh boy this is noisy so far, unlike the rather ambient style of the second album. Headache hasn’t started appearing yet and I’m somehow not quite sick of it. Writing is flowing out of me easily. He’s singing about the queen I think: the only lyric I can make out is “that’s the queen.”

Oh there’s some synthesizer noise. That song is over: a minute and a half. Genesis is apologizing for being half an hour later while Peter or Chris makes awful noises on the synthesizer. What assholes. “We’d like to welcome you to Nags End: hopefully you have a quick shag afterward.” Something about tying some guy’s cock to a string and slamming the door. Very Friendly. Starts with synthesizer drone.

A more aggressive take on one of their signature tunes. Chris and Peter seem more confident integrating terrible synthesizer noises into the pieces. They react to Genesis quite well: it’s clear that he is leading the band through the music here as they react to his changes and cues. Chris and Peter are particularly useful here, weaving noisy lines around his words and punctuating the awful lines.

Cosey is playing a supporting role, playing close to Genesis’ rhythms or playing some textural noise. She remains more of a “hidden weapon” in these early gigs. Everything churns together like one big instrument making the worst noises you’ve ever heard. It’s still shocking today, can’t imagine how they reacted to this in 1977. Boos, hisses, likely, with some becoming lifelong fans due to disenfranchisement, rage, nihilism, raw and untapped punk anger etc.

Getting hard. Lots of noise and screaming and stop and start. Again, they remain oddly in-tune with what the other person is going to do, an odd state of mind for such obvious non-musicians. Not halfway done with this one. Any pretense at “songs” has been discarded. The audience is getting antsy. Somebody just whistled. There’s clapping and cheering. “You’ll notice that for the next hour I play only one string. I don’t know why they build these with four.” That says it all. Ends with audience chatter.

Hour Four: Brighton – March 26, 1977

Abstract beginning. Probably my favorite so far. Lots of bouncing-ricochet synthesizer noise. There’s some distorted noise that is probably the bass or the guitar. Not sure yet: it’s a bit faster than Genesis has been playing, but it has a similar distorted tone and it bounces between like two notes. A vocal yelp deeply buried and synthesized. Sounds like a man being crushed to death in a black hole while screaming for help. Feedback, distortion: Cosey is back there making some awful, awful noise.

Serial killer interviews. The guy they’re interviewing sounds like Billy Corgan. Weird. He’s talking about how he bashed in this girl’s head in and he uses that calm and relaxed tone most killers use. Lots of sustained feedback here, Cosey lurking, with Peter and Chris doing the heavy lifting instrumentally. Some kind of sampled public service nonsense. Can’t hear it very well and then it stopped.

Oh. Genesis is playing the violin. That’s a first for the live shows so far. About 18 minutes into it and things are actually taking a calm and almost ambient tone. Genesis is obviously quite inept on the violin but he does know how to play notes on it, unlike some people I know (i.e. myself). Creates an odd and unsettling ambiance. The synthesizers are very ugly now: God, they knew how to make ugly noises with them, the kind of stuff most people ignored. More samples about an intersection.

Near silence as the samples are used sporadically. Some kind of high-pitched noise: I think it’s just amp hum but it’s hard to tell. The audience is dead silent here: that’s impressive! Not one “ya fucking wanker!” to spoil the atmosphere. Restraint: not something I’d associated with this band before. There’s some synthesizer noise, small, faint, and annoying. Yay! Samples back “this means exactly what it implies, when you hear this signal, the attack is due now.” Echoed. Getting overwhelming. PETER.

Getting lost in it now. I think the band is getting a bit silly: “gonna be a belly dancer… romancer… romancer… romancer…” There’s no focus here: just noise for noise’s sake. Know that was always a point with these guys, but it lacks the really intriguing textures. Something about “Johnny Rotten.” Genesis is obviously improvising. Cosey is getting really thick: there’s not much synthesizer now as the guitars and bass take over. That’s probably enough for this hour.

Hour Five: Southampton – May 7, 1977

Epic ascending synthesizer opening with Chris creating a swell of sound that would be appropriate for a new age or progressive song or album. Adds a little dissonance to make it more TG and sustains it: there’s no crescendo or release here, it just starts throbbing like a raw vein in your heart or perhaps some gristle which you’re trying to chew on but can’t quite seem to get down. There’s some stabs from Peter here and other notes added. Genesis and Cosey are sitting this part out, appropriately so.

Spacier type of sound so far. The synthesizers are doing the heavy lifting, with Genesis mostly thumping out his trademark “stoopid” bass lines. Voice synthesized: Cosey doing scraping noises on the guitar and lots of whammy nonsense. Not like Steve Vai, but bending the strings beyond the appropriate bending point. Chris is going full on siren here and playing something nearly melodic. Cosey is more noticeable here with her guitar noise. Pete plays some underwater bloops and bleeps.

The whole thing is very damn tense and probably my favorite show so far. It takes the group to a slightly different arena than their heavily distorted strum und drang. That said, there’s a lot of the intuitive interactions that they can pull off at their best. Chris keeps the synths whining high and menacing. The tone is very clean for his normal style: nearly prog type tone with lots of sustained stuff. They are reworking the elements here over and over in subtle ways, continually pushing it forward.

More samples, briefly. Cars. Pure white noise synthesizer tone blends into wind. Sticking rather ambient in tone with Chris and Peter doing the heavy lifting. Cosey and Genesis could be off having a shag for all I can tell. Waves landing on the beach now. It’s getting hypnotic and I’m losing concentration, but in a good way. The mind is haunted by these tones. About halfway through now. Genesis is adding some bass (I think?) and Cosey is playing heavily distorted guitar (I think?).

Abrupt and artificial stop! More slight synthesizer noises. Bass blips. Notes there. Chris is staying in the background. Genesis keeps his bass work high and simple. Cosey is now playing some chunking guitar parts. The synthesizer parts get faster and higher and the band kicks into it a little bit more. An awkward “ahem” groove is being established. They sure could use some drums or a drum machine here. It remains exploratory, as if they are looking for the lost chord and can’t quite seem to find it.

Cosey’s presence is more noticeable here. She makes some rather awful noises on the guitar while Chris creates some rather nice arpeggios in the background. Peter is AWOL I think, while Genesis holds down the fort with his simple bass line. Though I mock his skill, he’s at least almost always on time and rhythm, even if the rhythm is simple. It creates a stabilizing element that gives the other band members something to play on. It’s surprising how pleasant this part sounds right now, considering the elements are harsh distorted guitar, repetitive bass lines, and wild synthesizers.

Some samples now: emergency line, slowed down echoed voices. Synthesizers very quiet. Probably overall the best show I’ve listened to yet. There’s a bit more to go at this point, but I think I’ve pretty successfully gotten the gist of this show down. On to hour six i.e. one quarter of the way through!

Hour Six: London – May 22, 1977

Was at Wal-Mart shopping for supplies for tonight when this one started. Very loud beginning and it has moved through quiet moments and silence and all of that. It’s starting to get to me. “ROGER DALTREY! All you need is love…all you need is what? All you need is The Who.” It sounds like a very large see saw violently moving up and down with rusty hinges. I am already tired: it’s six o’clock in the afternoon and I’m going to cook some Chinese food and play video games to avoid insanity.

genesis

Less a musician and more a rabble rouser and front man, Genesis has remained a controversial figure in England and across the country, refusing to compromise his extreme vision

Hour Seven: London – September 29

Drums of some sort and synthesizers are taking on a drone aspect. Energetic without being noisy: tribal. The chance of identifying specific tones and instruments has been limited to a conceptual possibility but the reality of doing so has been limited to theory. They float about me like the singers in a space opera caught adrift in orbit. It is space it is noise it is all containing and absolutely meaningless.

I’m losing myself in it now. They could hold this groove for the whole hour and I’d be happy. Something tells me that they will. Do it! They didn’t. All is quiet but…what I think is Cosey’s guitar. It’s so hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure I heard fingers scraping strings. No one makes a sound in the whole place. Someone just laughed. People are talking quietly. Wonder if they like it or hate it. Wonder if someone is puking in the bathroom, in the bar, outside a window, and laughing as it hits some poor old guy on the head, covering him with blood waste and rendering him impotent with rage.

Hour Eight: Winchester – November 11, 1977

It sounds like somebody sharpening a knife for an hour, a knife that hovers above your neck ready to draw blood. Harsh sounds belie gentle souls: Genesis would never hurt a fly? Somebody hammering nails into my forehead. Throwing up to the rhythm and there electronic moan doth fly!

Hour Nine: Valentino – December 17, 1977

This is the sound of death approaching. It is slow and methodical, full of quiet menace, and a British idiot screaming nonsense through a distortion pedal. Phases, up and down, bleeps and bloops, crunchy after effects, the glow of post-coital relaxation, the grunt of a birthing mother: it all sounds the same eventually and loses its effect on the imagination. The audience is hooting, though, so who am I?

There is a pulse to it. I listen to the pulse and let my mind sync up to it, my heart beat dropping and my skin cooling. What time is it? There’s a palpable sense of yearning, like fingers scraping through hay to find a needle, there’s a hope here, deep within the folds, a speck of life that can be grasped, pulled out, and gnawed on like a bone pulled from the chest of a lion. Yes. Oh yes. Randomness here.

Stasis, like a flat heart beat or the horizon of the ocean dead calm and silent. It echoes and the band takes a break as Chris lets the synthesizer do all the hard work. Have a smoke, a shag, and a hag. The noise they can make…it still gives the young ones a headache. That’s nice.

Hour Ten: Brighton – February 25, 1978

There’s some relaxation in my mind now. This particular one starts out rather low key. There’s some siren synths, but not as high pitched or insistent. Rather background noise. Cosey is very art-damaged guitar here. This isn’t easy listening. There is a drone throughout that creates menace, like the sound of bombs dropping on the countryside. Peter plays a radio broadcast or something in the background. I can’t tell. Cosey creates these great swells of sound on her guitar and Chris answers back.

How much of these swells on the last few albums were by Cosey and not Chris, as I assumed? Best not to think. There’s a genius of noise here in her work as she skillfully explores a variety of new guitar textures. The odd thing is that I’ve come to find it not only appropriate and not noise (no headache any more!) but almost as soothing as the wind in the trees. The last hour had about five minutes of silence and when it came, I felt shocked and unable to respond. I listened to all five minutes and felt the quiet hammer into my head. Then I screamed, shouted, changed the album, and fired an airhorn.

NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! If there’s one thing I love it’s noise…is there any escape, from a lack of noise? GOODNESS ME I HOPE NOT. Noise comes from the darkest parts of our hearts and warms us up for the impending apocalypse that looms deadly and dangerous on our minds. So yeah: this album is pretty good. There’s some kind of drum beat here, synthesized, I dunno. It goes on and on and Genesis is quite here. No bass or violin, just Cosey playing her casually wild guitar. Genius in her way. There’s a whole lot of babbling samples to end this out here. That’s just fine. That’s dandy. Super dooper.

Hour Eleven: London – March 3, 1978

More of the same but for the addition of a drum machine and more insistent rhythms. Gives it an early and cheap techno feel. Cosey’s guitar is intense and Genesis yells for most of it. GRIP ON REALITY IS SLIPPING INTO THE ENDLESS REPETITION OF COSEY FANNI TUTTI FEEDBACK. Now there is a bunch of samples competing for attention. Something about a kidnapper. There’s a drone there, too. Whispering. Quiet. The dynamics of their shows are getting to be quite similar.

Hour Twelve: London –  May 18, 1978

The beginning of the halfway hour. It starts like DOA: the same synthesizer part, the “drump drump DEEE” thing. That plays quiet, like the sample it probably is, Peter doing it I bet. Sleazy. Chris is playing a synthesizer part that sounds like something you’d hear in Chris and Cosey: simple, repetitive, but clean. Adds a little distortion. Or is that Cosey? Genesis has been very vacant these last few shows.

This seems like a total Peter and Chris show so far. Maybe that really noisy junk is Cosey? It’s so hard to tell. It sounds more like a synthesizer with distortion on it, but again, you can never tell with bands that do so much to make it all sound like one big noise. Ah no, nevermind, there’s Cosey: playing relatively clean and simple lines in the background. No bass guitar. No violin. No screaming. What is Genesis doing? Just sitting around backstage looking at stag magazines?

There’s some vocals. Distorted note held long. He’s talking quiet, echo, can’t tell what he’s saying. Ah! Hold that note…hold it…hold it…add that distortion…there you go. Increase the rotation of spin. Nice…nice…awww yeah, more distortion, there’s some backward swoops behind that and…it’s getting really abstract now, for a moment rhythm threatened, but there’s Genesis in the back, his vocals drowned out, nothing coming, nothing going and yup: business as usual again!

There’s a simple dark and brooding goth synth line in the background. ATTENTION ROBERT SMITH. Take that, throw a “G, A, D” chord progression over it, arrange it to symphonic proportions, do your Robert Smith vocal thing, and make it a hit. You still got it in you somewhere, Fat Bob. I still love you, man, I really do. “Disintegration is the best album ever.” Cosey is playing the coronet I think on this one. There’s a church atmosphere here. I’m going insane. BUT NEVERMIND THAT.

More very early techno. Swoops. Bleeps. The cheapest drum machine ever. Genesis is sleeping on the job. Cosey is adding up royalty checks in the back. Or is that her guitar there? Again: impossible to tell. Gets into a pretty damn good drum groove with some pretty deep phased base, whining synthesizer lines, and noise guitar parts. Pretty ahead of its time and ingenious in its layout.

chris-carter

Chris Carter built many of his own synthesizers and is one of the pioneers of techno and “trance,” with his use of repetitive, but ever-changing, synthesizer lines

Hour Thirteen: London – July 1, 1978

Confession: I couldn’t do all 24 hours in a row. It just wasn’t going to happen: it was getting late and my mind was becoming flighty, weird, and unhappy. After a reasonable sleep I woke up, refreshed, and ready to face the challenge ahead: 12 more hours of Throbbing Gristle:

First thing I did when I woke up was start some TG. Show starts out pretty noisy right away with a lot of heavy distorted bass or guitar and synths going wild. It’s election day here in America, the presidential election, and there’s a Trump and there’s a Clinton and there’s a lot of really unhappy people, so I’m shutting off the world today and engaging with no one and listening to Throbbing Gristle all day as a way of cleansing the palate and the mind. Think of it as a spiritual thing.

Hamburger Lady. Lots of echoed voices. Threshold of pain. Coronet here and there. He was eating a chili ?? and flashed on the ?? Drone now the synths are low and ominous. Each show moves like a Grateful Dead set and I’m not even kidding. Nothing seems planned and the band moves in and out of textures and sounds at seeming random, but always at the right time. BETTER than a Grateful Dead show because there’s no songs to straight jacket them into simple melodic concepts.

Oh violin and samples. Thanks guy. That is what my life was missing. Genesis scrapes: Peter lets the voices babble. Some kind of weird noises echo and remind me that Donald Trump could be president. A bunch of noise and then this: “I swallowed the chain and then I felt like it wrapped around my spine and it was one of the only things I ever felt. I was in the cell one day and I took the mouthpiece of the spoon and swallowed it and the hospital bed I swallowed the wire.” It just goes on like that awhile.

There’s this rhythm going on now in the thing. Chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk. It gives a structure. That’s nice. Genesis is blathering and Cosey is firing off those trademark “blistering noise” solos that remind me so much of John McLaughlin or even Ritchie Blackmore. Relax, that’s a very, very bad joke that should be taken out back and forced to listen to 24-hours of live Throbbing Gristle.

Even if I didn’t do this all in one stretch, my God, doing it in a 36-hour period is just as damaging to my mental state. That’s only 12-hours of non-Throbbing Gristle listening, eight of which I spent asleep. WOW. Chris is really swelling up the synthesizer noise now or is that Cosey? If it’s Cosey, she’s a noise guitar Goddess (like duh) and if it’s Chris, he’s a synth noise God (like double duh). Peter is in the back twiddling knobs or painting an album cover or something. The audience is probably deaf or dead.

Hour Fourteen: London – July 6, 1978

Third (or is it fourth?) show to open with the “I.B.M.” noise. Probably became something of a trademark. There’s some Cosey guitar noise: brief and stabbing. Hamburger Lady. Creepy. Chunking noise again. It’s starting to blend into one: the same elements shuffled and presented in slight tweaks. The cumulative mental damage caused by the first 12 is gone now. But hey: there’s 10 more to go.

Hour Fifteen: London – November 11, 1978

Things have come to an interesting point. Genesis only sings with the “clipping” vocal effect and he announced the show briefly and rather oddly. The return of the sharpening knife effect. It’s all becoming an endless blur of noise. More vocals at the beginning. Samples. It swirls more psychedelic than pure noise at this point. The synth has a bit of an organ feel to it. There are some strange noises!

They have become professional in their approach. There is an attack to it, a fearsome rumble. Genesis rarely speaks or sings. There’s a lot of synthesized noise and some terrible guitar racket. Cosey is a devastating monster, a horrible torturer that takes the glorious beauty of the distorted guitar and squeezes it into the most twisted shapes, the most unpleasant gurgles and spasmodic allegories.

Again, the dynamics of the show are often extreme. There is heavy noise and gurgles and burbles and then near complete silence. People talking in the background: could be a sample or could be audience members trying to hook up. The sound of the audience is absolutely absent in general: no screams of protest or applause. It’s eerie, like they’re playing to ghosts.

Hour Sixteen: London – January 21, 1979

It’s another hour of the same old shit. Two-thirds of the way through! Note: this hour is more “trance” than anything, repetitive heavy techno with babbling Genesis. Less noise. No Hamburger Lady.

Hour Seventeen: Derby – April 12, 1979

According to the most recent estimates, there are about 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. At best, I know about one-percent of them, if not less. This doesn’t bother me so much (there’s only so much room in my head for collections of letters and numbers) but it does make it nearly impossible to continue making these descriptions interesting and engaging. So here’s a list of synonyms for the word “noisy” that describe this particular album:

  • boisterous
  • cacophonous
  • clamorous
  • rambunctious
  • riotous
  • rowdy
  • strident
  • vociferous
  • blatant
  • blusterous
  • booming
  • chattering
  • clangorous
  • deafening
  • disorderly
  • ear-popping
  • ear-splitting
  • obstreperous
  • piercing
  • screaming
  • strepitous

For what it’s worth, Genesis uses more vocal echoes here and Cosey continues to stretch out as the noisiest one of the bunch, the one who really lays the industrial texture thickest. Chris and Peter become the backbones on which she can paint. They are the “rhythm section,” if you will, while Cosey and Genesis are the “front line,” to labor a particularly meaningless jazz metaphor.

Also: it is shocking how many industrial bands just took these textures and reclaimed them wholesale.

Hour Eighteen: Sheffield – April 25, 1979

More strident here. Militant. The tones are harsher and there was an extended almost Negativland-ish moment of samples. That disappeared under the heavy strain of the repetitive synthesizers and the drone of the guitar. It is grooving now, like a runner at the peak of his powers, feeling that burst of the “high” that comes when he reaches the zen-perfection of the perfect run. Yup, something like that.

There comes that synthesizer part that Chris likes using so much. High-pitched pinched “bip” that sets up a rhythm, such as it is. Boom. Boom. Boom. There is no Hell, I’m sure of that, but if there is, Satan freaks out when he hears this music because it’s a little too “scary” for him, the fallen angel that he is or was or could be when examined under a strict and polarizing microscope.

It don’t come easy, you know it don’t come easy…it cont dome easy…knou yow wit eont dome casy…Okay, that one had a really great ending. The sheer volume of noise sustained is great.

sleazy

Peter was a skilled photographer who actually helped fund the band by doing album art work for Hipgonsis, including work for Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel

Hour Nineteen: Manchester – May 19, 1979

So Trump won. This stuff goes down really well today. Hamburger Lady is particularly scary. Packed up a bunch of my stuff to move back to my mom’s to prepare to move to South Korea. Hahaha. Scary dialogue with a racist twinge: kind of shockingly apropos considering the feeling in the air.

Hour Twenty: Northampton – May 26, 1979

Harsh noise immediately. I’m writing a lot this morning. It’s nine o’clock am and I’ve been awake since five, a weird twist for me. There are a lot of boings and springs to this one so far. The last hour went quickly because I was writing so much. People around the world are mourning and in great fear because of the election and I can’t say I blame them much. Suicidal thoughts are high for many.

There are many things I want to say while I listen to this music, most of which should be held in my brain and never released to the public. There are only so many different sentences and components and paragraphs and metaphors that can be construed and yes, I’ve labored this point before already, but I see nothing but smoke stacks blowing in the wind over soot covered bodies when I hear this music.

Mentality is rather cold and twisted due to lack of sleep. A cornet. Hamburger Lady. Oh Good. More heavy rhythm over the second half. A basic industrial rhythm ripped off a thousand times by others.

Hour Twenty-One: London – August 3, 1979

“Convincing people…convincing people…convincing people…” The sun is bright outside and the sky is blue. It was warm enough to walk without a coat on. Squirrels ran in the park and couples walked holding hands. Trump will be president. My body felt invigorated by the walk.

“Convincing people…convincing people…I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what.” Fresh air. Glorious life! Things will be okay in an abstract way, as a fat grey squirrel twirls its tail outside. Hamburger Lady again. The shows become predictable again. I still haven’t heard “Discipline” on any of these albums. There aren’t many left. When’s it coming? I could use some, for sure.

Hour Twenty-Two: London – December 23, 1979

Very sample heavy beginning to this one. Some porno soundtracks by the sound of it. Appropriate, appropriate. The musical backing behind it is cheesy. Reminds me of a Kool Keith album, rather than Negativland, as those guys rarely went full on sex: too nerdy for that. Some of them may have never had sex, though that’s probably just mean and an unfair thing to say. Yikes! Glad my neighbors are out.

It’s been going on and on and on and I wasn’t sure it was ever going to end. Abruptly it stopped and now Chris is going wild with some whirling synthesizer part. Cosey is blasting out notes on the coronet. Abstract, like ghosts playing tag in the night. As always, unpleasant to listen to and annoying when in the wrong mood. I had to play some other music before coming to this one again.

It becomes like a fan in the background or the sound of your mother’s heartbeat in the womb: you know it’s there, you technically hear it, but it becomes nothing but noise. There seems to be actual bass guitar on this one and Genesis is very vocally noisy. Cosey is back on guitar and making it pay for all the terrible things it did to her family. The other guys are just content hanging around and letting it all hang out. Let it all hang out. Let it all hang out.

HOLY SHIT DONALD TRUMP IS THE PRESIDENT. Lots of echoing babbly babble here. Eh. Some kind of funky groove here with actual bass playing (wow! Genesis seems to be playing a real bass line rather than two notes), Cosey cornet bleats, and interlocking synthesizer footsteps.

cosey-s

Cosey, an intelligent, talented, and beautiful woman had a lengthy career in art, modeling, and adult films outside of music

Hour Twenty-Three: Leeds – February 24, 1980

Starts with coronet: like a dying whale burping up its only living child. Gurgles from the synths and spaces between the notes. Quickly becomes just synthesizer and there’s discordance and no harmony.

Distracted for pretty big portions of this with writing. I’ll say this: it definitely sounds like a Throbbing Gristle show. There’s a lot of noise at the beginning, Genesis yelled, then the end gets pretty ambient.

Breaking down the individual components of these shows and writing intricately about each hour is akin to decoding a DNA spiral by hand and reading the components verbally. Don’t do that!

Cosey is soloing. SOLOING. I think it’s her anyway. I suppose it could be a synthesizer. It seems guitarish. A little more melodic than her typical fair. Okay, maybe it’s the synth. Eh. Wow. Eh. Wow.

Ends with hypnotist sample. Funny. The audience claps. Even funnier: so few hands. Genesis blabs about the next band. There’s murmur about that. That’s that hour.

Hour Twenty-Four: London – February 29, 1980

Trance. The same synthesizer line for the first 45 minutes of the show (give or take) with Genesis “aahhing” over top. The rest of it is another synthesizer line (which sounds like a cello) with Cosey playing noisy guitar in the back while Genesis improvises vocally.

Perhaps their simplest show of the whole set, one that goes all in on the more repetitive aspects of their music. Coronet, hypnotist, oh shit it’s over!

gristlet

Thanks for listening, sorry about the racket!

The Verdict

I gained a new respect for this band after listening to these shows. They are clearly not professional musicians, but they find new ways to make every show different. Almost every moment is more-or-less improvised and there are some ahead-of-their-time textures here that are still being explored by modern bands. If their studio albums didn’t quite hit me the way I’d hoped, these lives show definitely did.

On to TG+ or 10 more hours of this stuff!

Advertisements

Inexplicable Albums: The Grateful Dead’s “Infrared Roses”

What a long strange trip…

You know what? I’m not going to throw down that hoary old quote like it’s some beatific mantra that distills the essence of life into seven simple words. It’s a petty and banal way to start a review and I won’t stand for own laziness. Especially as this is, indeed, my first review after a two-year break.

And, of course, I decide to review the Grateful Dead for some reason. And not only a Grateful Dead album: but one that has no recognizable songs and is, instead, edited together as one long continuous suite of keyboard noise, bass thumps, drum paradiddles and guitar scrapes.

What a way to reintroduce myself to the reviewing world! Indeed, what a long strange trip…

It’s been so long since I reviewed anything that my fans are likely unaware that I went and did something incredibly stupid and ill-advised: I became a Grateful Dead fan.

It started out small: just a single live album, “Live/Dead.” Then some MP3’s. Then all the studio albums… right now, as I type, I’m plotting how to afford the next massive multi-concert box set they’re sure to release soon. After all, who doesn’t need 17,000 variations of “Sugaree”?

How did this happen?

The Grateful Dead have a way of working their way into your mind and your musical sphere. Their songs are pleasant, melodic, harmonious, well-played and varied. They have pretty good lyrics. Sometimes their songs are excellent. They’re almost always good.

But then you listen to a live album. And it clicks: Jerry starts soloing, Phil starts zooming, Bob starts chicka-chicking, whichever soon-to-be-dead keyboard player they had was tinkling and the double drummers were thumping.

And off you went, on some musical adventure! Sometimes it really sucked, but it was usually listenable. Sometimes it was transcendent.

Jazz in a rock format.

Not jazz rock. Not fusion. But rock (and roots music) played as if it was jazz. Nothing quite like it.

Another reason the band is so addicting is due to what I call the “Walt Whitman” effect: so much of them, and all so luscious. Because the band was constantly up to…something. There was always some kind of music they were working on or a side band with which they were jamming.

Simply put, they released a ton of studio albums (better than most people think), recorded almost all their shows and had baffling solo careers that veered from Grateful Dead stylization straight up into funk, jazz and even mainstream AOR.

Jerry probably did the best: his literally all-solo self-titled album is a winner and one that that mixed folk songs with avant-guard noise. He also had a collection of standards with an orchestra, helped invent modern bluegrass and toured with his own band (imaginatively titled “The Jerry Garcia Band”) when the Dead wasn’t.

And Weir released a handful of solo albums (including the classic “Ace”) and  was in half a dozen different bands that often released only one album before he got bored and wandered away. The best of these is probably “RatDog” which takes the Dead jam aesthetic and slams it into Weir’s surprisingly complex songwriting.

However, no record produced in the band’s camp (be it a Dead release or a solo album) was as strange as “Infrared Roses,” beyond, perhaps John Oswald’s legendary Plunderphonic “Gray Folded.” But that’s a topic for a different time.

“Infrared Roses” is a collection of the “space” and “drum” sections that started appearing in the band’s concerts in the 80’s and 90’s. These sections took the place of the standard “Dark Star” sonic explorations in the 60’s and 70’s, popped up at any time during a concert and were easily the most “out there” moments of the band’s decline.

For some reason (I’m not near my copy and am not willing to look it up for religious reasons), the band decided they would edit some of the best sections together and release it as an album. The producer (again, blanking on his name) skillfully slapped together weird jams and noise making and made it sound like…weird jams and noise making. For about an hour.

Such a description is, likely, very uninviting. In fact, this was the second Grateful Dead album I ever owned and it was quite a shock to hear what often sounded like harsh industrial synthesizers droning into a near Amon Duul II-type soundscape. Where the hell was “Uncle John’s Band”?

Probably playing to the time in a different dimension.

After the initial terror of the album wears off, it becomes surprisingly listenable and even diverse. Sometimes, it’s just Billy and Mickey locked into some interminable drum groove.

Other moments, it’s Jerry soloing dissonantly while Phil lets his bass feedback.

Occasionally, Michael McDonald look and soundalike Brett Myland runs his hands across the keyboard aimlessly while Bob Weir screws around with ridiculous midi sounds.

After awhile, the mind starts focusing in on the little details. That’s the secret of Grateful Dead jams: they go on so long that your brain starts focusing on the small things, picking apart weird little details and entertaining itself with moments it might not have noticed otherwise.

It’s very intuitive and, at its finest, something like meditation: that is, focusing your attention on something so fully that you grasp its essence intuitively.

Or maybe it’s just a bunch of noises. Could go either way. And don’t get your hopes up for a big epic solo or crescendo. After an hour, ust kind of ends after what seems like an eternity spent listening to the band make goofy noises for an hour.

But hey, it’s a journey that beats Journey, a long strange trip that beats “Strange Brew” and a noise rock experiment from a band that was square enough to regularly cover (the sublime) Marty Robbins.

So, it’s pretty epic.

“Calling All Stations” by Genesis… an Entry in the Inexplicable Album Series

Edwin is focused on his site for the day and didn’t want to rush anything so he won’t be posting today. Good thing I had a few articles in the backlog, including this look at what I’ve always considered a rather great example of an Inexplicable Album as it’s shockingly and irredeemably awful…read on to find out why, kiddies!

DARK! And mysterious…ooooh! Calling all angsty teenagers!

After listening to thousands of albums in my life, I’ve discovered a listening event I call the “Good Album First” effect.

This occurs when you listen to a band’s best albums first and then move on to their “other” stuff. The “other” stuff usually ends up being a huge disappointment, even if its high quality in and of itself.

For example, I listened to the Cars debut album and I couldn’t get enough. It was diverse, well written, engagingly arranged and surprisingly lyrically apt.

Then I listened to “Candy O.” And “Shake It Up.” And “Heartbeat City.” They were hugely disappointing to me at first. Although I’ve learned to enjoy just about every album by the Cars, I’ve never listened to one I enjoy as much as their first.

I mention this effect because many fans often call out other listeners that they believe are suffering under this “delusion.”

“If you wouldn’t have heard ‘Pet Sounds’ first, you’d think ‘Carl and the Passions-So Tough’ was amazing!” they might say, or “Come on yeah sure, compared to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ it might be weak, but ‘Help!’ is still a kicking album!”

I have made very similar arguments from time to time and I understand the draw of such a simplistic and  impossible to dispute (logically) argument.

But here’s what makes that particular argument so insidious: by claiming somebody doesn’t appreciate something because it doesn’t meet their expectations, you are , in essence, arguing that they are closed minded. And how can you disprove being closed minded? By getting angry and defensive and looking like the asshole while the TRUE asshole gets all the girls for defending shitty albums.

Why do I bring up this contentious argument? Because it’s an argument I’ve often run into from certain (rather delusional) Genesis fans regarding their last (and likely to stay that way) album “Calling All Stations.”

“Come on man! You just heard ‘Foxtrot’ first so you think it’s the best thing ever. If this album was by another band, you’d love it. It’s dark, moody, mysterious and oh so ‘arty’ after all the pop crap of the Phil Collins era!”

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell all “Calling All Shit-Stains” defenders to “fuck off” for that argument: this album, objectively (from my point of view) and in fact quite subjectively (almost mathematically) is not only the worst album produced by Genesis but may be one of the worst albums ever made.

Short, short Genesis history: weird prog band with Peter Gabriel loses Peter Gabriel and makes synth pop music to make it big. Phil Collins was their drummer and singer for the pop period and he had his own crappy solo career.

Collins left in 1996 after the simultaneous success of the “We Can’t Dance” Genesis album and his “But Seriously…” solo album in and around 1991.

Do you get the humor of Phil’s timing fully? I mean, the guy left the band to “further his solo career” right when it was at the point of complete implosion and just moments before the guy became a decades long running joke. But hey, even if Phil did make crappy Disney soundtracks…he never made this album. So he still comes out smelling like roses in the metaphorical pile of shit.

A hot new alternative rock band? Or a past their prime pop band desperately posing with an annoying scab?

All right that’s enough stalling: let’s get started.

Here’s a fascinating yet true fact: one second into the album is all it takes for you to know it’s going to second. Seriously. One second into the opening title track is all it takes.  Don’t believe me?

Calling All Stations!

I was right wasn’t I? The second that stupid dive bomb heavy metal guitar riff comes in your toes curled a little didn’t they? And then the stupid, unimaginative and plodding drum beat started giving you bad flashbacks to early Van Halen moments before Tony Bank’s cheese ball keyboards jumped in to remind you of his…mixed history of success with picking tasteful, non-shitty keyboard tones.

And then the ringer…I’m sorry, I mean SINGER…Ray Wilson starts bleating in and you simultaneously feel intense anger and pity for Genesis.

You see, before the release of this album, they billed Wilson as a second coming of Peter Gabriel. There’s…a very, very small grain of truth to that. Basically, Wilson is rather raspy. Or “smokey” or perhaps even “dramatic.” Kinda like Gabriel.

That “kinda” is the smallest and least honest “kinda” you’ve ever heard in your life.  Kinda like the “kinda” you whisper when your mom asks you if you’re smoking pot again.

Wilson gets only minor blame for this album:  all the music on the album is written by Banks and Rutherford. Wilson doesn’t even write the lyrics as the album was written and partially recorded before he joined. The band planned on integrating his creative input on a second album that never came to be due to the mass of either outright indifference or rage at this album. Thank heavens.

But then again, pity kicks in because you know part of them probably really believed that Wilson was something like a return to Gabriel. Sure, he lacks Gabriel’s sense of humor, raw power, songwriting talent, stage presence, charisma, sense of theatricality, enunciation, diversity, and…well…

Okay he’s nothing like Peter Gabriel. They were fools for trying to pull that one off.

Tea time…

Everything on the album is just DRAINING. Everything’s mid tempo…all the guitar tones are HEAVY (or blandly acoustic)…the drum beats are leaden and boring (there are two drummers on this album and you can’t tell them apart)…Ray whines out high school poetry level lyrics…the phrase “take me to the Congo, I’m free to leave” is crooned…and the album is long, I swear to fuck, it feels longer than listening to “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” (a double disc album)  two times in a row.

The band seemingly went out of its way to alienate fans. They do everything wrong on this album. They wrote awful music and dressed it up in preposterous “dark” tones to make it “arty” in a misguided attempt to get back to their roots. They hired some bland dude and proclaimed him Gabriel. They eliminated all senses of pop sensibility, something present on EVERY Genesis album up to this point, including their darkest prog nightmares, to politely alienate all their pop fans.

They even refused to let Chester Thompson, their long standing live drummer, participate. I want to reiterate that: Thompson, excited about the possibility of being the band’s studio drummer and participating in songwriting and arranging, was turned down by the band.

Chester. Fucking. Thompson. Do you know that Chester Thompson used to drum with Frank Zappa during his most musically complex period? Or that Thompson played drums for (in)famous fusion band “Weather Report”? Or that he dedicated nearly 20 years of his life touring with a band that ultimately asked him to play little more than crude 4/4 beats to mimic Collins’ pop drumming style?

And they turned him down. They wanted a “fresh new start.” A “fresh new aneurysm” is more like it. I respect Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford a lot. They wrote a ton of great music for Genesis (in fact, they ultimately ended up writing more music for Genesis than anybody else) and helped steer the band through rocky periods of musical and personal changes to become one of the biggest bands in the world.

But when you turn down Chester Thompson (who actually would have been wasted on material this mundane) for two no-name hacks, I lose a little bit of respect. Not a lot. But enough.

I realize I didn’t talk about very many songs. In fact, I only talked about one. That’s enough. Seriously…one second…and you know you’re in trouble.

“Adult Child” by the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson

One of a 100,000 different covers of this album. I prefer the one with Brian in a robe, holding a surfboard but I couldn’t find a link for it!

Here’s one for the record books: perhaps the strangest, most banal and nut crushingly odd album from the pen of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Yes, even stranger than the universally beloved/loathed “Love You.” Even stranger than those mid-period albums they made before Love took over. Which, of course, makes it one of the maddest albums ever made yet never released (and don’t let the shoddy recording quality fool you, this was a completed album).

Which is saying something, as the Beach Boys have roughly…50 insane unreleased albums. And it’s weird enough to be entry three in the “Inexplicable Albums” series!

This proposed follow up to “Love You” was supposed to continue the whole “Brian is Back!” marketing campaign that had resulted in one “meh” album “15 Big Ones” as well as the delightfully odd (obvious solo album wannabe) “Love You.”

What makes this album odd is that it mixes the big cheese Broadway arrangement style from “20 Big Ones” with the childish (not childlike) songwriting of Wilson to create…well…the weirdest fucking Broadway ditties you’ve ever heard in your life.

A great example would be opening track “Life is for the Living.” It starts out with Brian trying to establish a smooth vocal smooth with a slightly off-key “liiiife! Is for the liiving!” as horns honk out a “finger popping” (I hate that term) Broadway riff.

Then Brian sings the following line which should tell you all you need to know about the lyrics on this album: “don’t sit on your ass, smoking some grass, that stuff went out a long time ago.”

Wow! And as always with Brian, I have absolutely no doubt he meant those lyrics in a completely heart felt manner: the guy always bled sincerity in a good and bad way.

Which is then exemplified (again) on the follow up track, “Hey Little Tom Boy.” This song is a…well, it features a band of weird, drugged up bearded 30 something’s chanting “hey little, hey little, hey little Tom boy! Time to turn into a girl!” as well as a creepy middle section where they “make her over” to be a “girl.”

Amazingly, this song made it onto the rushed replacement for this album “MIU” but without the creepy “hey put your hair down baby!” middle section.

I won’t go over every track here: that would require somebody trained in psychology to unravel Brian’s insanity at the time. Instead, I’ll discuss a few of the covers he tries to pull off: “Deep Purple” which is no better or worse than a million other versions of the song (and probably worse) and “On Broadway” which is…Al singing “On Broadway” backed up by a fully arranged cheese orchestra.

So far, so good: again, I don’t doubt Brian’s sincerity with these recordings. I believe he fully loved these songs and tried to do them the best justice he could at the time. And they aren’t bad: just banal.

The best cover is the insane “Shortnin’ Bread” cover which Brian had developed an insane obsession with around that time (climaxing with the infamous Alice Cooper/Ozzy Ozbourne/Whoever hour long singalong of the song led by Brian). It’s the exact same version (I think) featured on the later “LA (Light Album}” which should indicate how far the band was stretching during this period.

Better are the original songs like “H.E.L.P. Is on the Way” which is indescribable. It sounds a bit like a more arranged “Love You” outtake but with lyrics centered on getting into shape (with the HELP of the H.E.L.P. Health food store. Get it?!) or “Games Two Can Play” which is actually catchy as HELL but CREEPY AS FUCK as Brian wants to “play games that two can play.” One assumes in the bedroom.

As with everything Brian, the ballads are where he truly shines. They are the typically heart felt confessions that all his ballads turn into but with banal atmospheres and arrangements instead of his head spinning genius. “It’s Over Now” gets by on the melody alone as well as Brian’s resigned, “seat of death” vocal melody.

Perhaps the one song on the album that truly lives up to the Brian Wilson name (all the songs here are well written and catchy in their idiom but marked by banal arrangements, insane lyrics and lunatic atmospheres). It has an absolutely classy piano and vocal arrangement with minimal orchestral intrusions and a very well developed and winding melody. It’s appropriate it comes at the end of the album as it makes a solid capstone for the whole experience.

This album is something that can seem so utterly crappy and uninteresting the first few times you listen to it but which becomes interesting the more you learn about the band. After giving Brian full reign for a few albums, he must have had the confidence to do things his own away completely again.

Unfortunately, Brian was completely insane by the time this album came out and probably needed a bit of focus and prodding to create a great album. It’s probably why the songs were generally arranged by…somebody else (I forget the name, I think it’s a Sinatra arranger though).

I basically find it mostly interesting as a historical artifact and a priceless piece of information in the Great Brian Wilson/Beach Boys puzzle. It illustrates how truly fucked the band were at this point in their career: sure, Brian was Back but what good was that if he was chucking out albums as weird and hard to sell as this?!

It actually puts Love’s ascension on albums like “MIU” and LA (Light Album)” in a better light: with Carl never being a creative genius (solid, but no genius), Dennis trapped in a drug haze, Brian worthless and Jardine and Johnston seemingly along for the ride, SOMEBODY had to take control of the band and lead it into the future.

Sadly, it was the least creatively gifted member of the group who had to take control. And yes, he led them through the enjoyable but hardly essential “MIU” and “LA (Light Album)” albums but he also lead them into their abysmal “Stamos” years and “Kokomo” which makes this album seem like a lost masterpiece instead of a rightly rejected turd.

Songs to Youtube:
“Life is For the Living” as nothing can compare to this odd combination of trademark Wilson melody, jazz rock arrangements and trademark “WTF?” Wilson lyric.

“Still I Dream Of It” for evidence Brian still had IT but simply couldn’t get IT up at will any more.

(I’d like to thank the commentator who pointed a few jarringly obvious and embarrassing mistakes that I, as a lifelong Beach Boys fan, should never have made. However, since his comment contained personal attacks, I trashed it and won’t share his name. I invite criticism and corrections, but personal attacks about me or any of the writers who contribute to this site will not be tolerated.)

Attila Review or How I Learned to Love Billy Joel

Classy! With an emphasis on “ass!”

Hey remember the last really awesome heavy metal organ and drum duo you heard? Wasn’t that the tits?

What do you mean you’ve never heard a heavy metal drgan and orums odu before? Me neither!

Except Attila. My second entry in the “Inexplicable Albums” series.

Short, short version: Early Billy Joel juvenile musical drooling from before he became rock and roll’s most beloved hated entertainer.

Long version: I never got the hatred for Billy Joel. Sure, he always kinda looked like a douche (and actually WAS a douche) but his music was nowhere near as flatulent (and flat) as many people claimed. Remember, these are the same people that timidly praise the Carpenters, a much more annoying band with less songwriting talent.

But they got Karen. So I get that.

This 1970 album was Billy’s attempt to follow up his go-nowhere 60’s pop band the Hassles with something a bit “heavy.” To fit in with the times, you see.

And since he’s a keyboard player, not a guitarist he turned to a rather Deep Purple approach with heavy, loud organs and aggressive drumming.

But without a Speed King guitarist or a fat folk loving bass player.

So it sounds a bit thin sometimes.

Still, it is neat to hear Joel, a restrained keyboardist on roughly…100% of his solo recordings just let loose with a barrage of Emerson-ian (Keith, not Ralph Waldo) style organ. Really, the guy has a lot of chops and sometimes I feel like Emerson would have nodded his head in approval.

But imagine this guy going nuts on an organ, throwing knives into the body while lecturing on “Transcendentalism.”

Perhaps not, though, because Joel, unlike Emerson, knows how to “not to play fast” (to paraphrase Metalocalypse) and lets the melodies do the talking during the slower passages.

I’m sorry, did I say melodies? There are no melodies on this album you daft cookie! Instead, it’s endless organ riffing, soloing, drum bashing and Joel screaming, screaming, SCREAMING at the top of his lungs about a wide variety of topics such as women he wants to fuck/women he HAS fucked/women who WON’T fuck him/amplifiers on fire.

Oh also Brain Invasions. Can’t forget that. Watch out! Joel is coming…to invade your brain. And probably steal your wife. And punch you in the face a lot (he was a boxer, see).

This is an AWFUL review. A tad too “Mark Prindle” for me. Must trudge on, though.

I remember reading a review of this that called it “hamfisted” and that’s actually a pretty good word if a rather strange visual image. Joel sounds like he’s forcing it throughout this hilarious album but at the same time he seems to really revel in the feedback pedals, organ stops and all sorts of thick, throbbing organ sounds that push through the mix to create a climaxing monster demon sound.

Bizarrely sexual there for a moment. Let’s pause for a breath.

Got your breath back? Good! You shan’t have a chance to do that while listening to this album. From opening “Wonder Woman” to closer “Brain Invasion” you will be barraged by Billy Joel trying to be heavy metal all in a weird, misguided attempt to get your money, your love and, probably, your wife.

I like it.

I wish they had a CD of it so I could show it to people and giggle like the stupid little hipster I am and make hilarious jokes about how bad it is to those who “get” the joke while later sitting at home and head banging to it and screaming “WONDER WOMAAAAAN!” along with Billy with a feeling of semi-shame and semi-joy at sharing such an absurd little ritual with myself.

It didn’t sell well. Can you imagine? The reviews were horrendous and probably a bit deserved when you consider its one of the worst albums ever produced. The cover is amazing: Joel and drummer Somebody Smalls (Derek?) standing in a meat locker dressed like Huns with pissy looks on their faces as if they want to beat you up (and steal your wife out of boredom).

I want it framed on my new apartment wall but I don’t own it.

Joel apparently drank furniture polish and then stole his drummer’s wife after reading the reviews (see, those wife stealing jokes had a point!).

To each his own, I suppose, but the whole furniture polish thing seems extreme. But that’s nothing compared to how he honored his new found wife: with the song “She’s Always a Woman to Me” where he complains about her thieving habits.

Not so nice, Billy considering you got her by thieving. I think she got off easy, though: his next wife, Christie Brinkley got “Uptown Girl” written for her and got the pleasure of staring in the video for that cloying piece of Joel.

How nice for her. And then she had to make “kissy faces” at Real Life Douche Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” I think the universe hates Christie Brinkley or at least balanced her amazing good looks with shitty “acting” jobs.

Clearly a woman born to lose.

Anyways, download this album and play it at all birthday parties, thesis readings, funerals, rental stores and during every scene of every porno ever because it’s the best album for annoying people (that still sounds like music) that I’ve ever heard.

Okay that is a bit much but I’m in a mood: my ankle hurts, I’m listening to “Living Thing” and it’s a “given thing” that I’ll write gibberish in such a state! I don’t even know why I reviewed this album when I have so much vodka left to drink.

p.s. I really don’t hate Billy Joel.

Songs to Youtube:

Download this album!

Inexplicable Albums: Squarepusher “Solo Electric Bass 1”

Where the hell did THIS come from?

Ever got an album by one of your favorite artists, popped it in, expected more of the same and been met with a “what the hell?” moment as the music blasts out of your speakers defeats all your expectations. Sometimes bands make a career out of abrupt left field changes in approach. Others come out of nowhere and confuse and befuddle fans.

Or at least they SEEMINGLY come out of nowhere. Sometimes these changes were there all along. This is where this  new series of articles comes into play: here, I will analyze where these “what the hell?” albums came from and what, if anything they have to offer to an artist’s legacy.

The first entry in this new series (don’t worry ABBA fans, the next review is coming soon) is 2009’s “Solo Electric Bass 1” from drum and bass pioneer “Squarepusher.” “Squarepusher” is best known for fast paced, complex drum patterns, hard hitting bass lines and wild synthesizer lines that broke new ground in electronic music and helped influenced fellow IDM artist Aphex Twin to explore similar routes.

THIS album is a live recording of unaccompanied electric bass solos. Not electric bass SYNTHESIZER solos: but actual played bass guitar solos. Everything sounds highly improvised (and likely was) and is simultaneously intimate, warm, complex and low key. It didn’t get very good reviews.

 

Not exactly relevant, but it is hilarious.

So, where did such an album come from in the “Squarepusher” discography? Well, casual fans may not have been aware of it but “Squarepusher” aka Tom Jenkinson is actually an incredibly accomplished jazz player. In fact, the “bass” in the “drum and bass” is almost always Jenkinson’s non-sampled playing. Considering the complexity of the bass parts on his albums, this is quite a feat.

In fact, jazz makes up a huge part of “Squarepusher’s” sound. Did you listen to that sample clip from above? If you did, you may have noticed the slight jaziness of the keyboard parts. This wasn’t an accident: Jenkinson often veers between hardcore electronic textures and more jazz influenced sounds.

1998’s “Music is Rotted One Note” is actually a tour-de-force of jazz fusion in which Jenkinson plays all the instruments himself. He often combines these jazz fusion tendencies with hard programmed electronic instrumentation, creating a sound that is uniquely his and is hard to replicate. Trust me, I’ve tried.

That actually makes “Solo Electric Bass 1” (remember, that album I’m supposed to be talking about?) make a bit more sense in context. Perhaps Jenkinson was tired of not getting enough recognition for his bass playing skills. Perhaps he wanted to attract attention to his solo bass tours. Maybe he was once again simply changing directions as he did with his next album, a near pop album.

When all is said and done, is the album good? Not really: it’s just a guy playing a bass for 40 minutes. No matter how good you are on the instrument, it’s really hard to make it sound awesome for an entire album. In fact, although I do admire the bravery of standing on stage and improvising a whole set on a bass guitar, it sounds and feels more self indulgent and egotistical than brave. Sorry Tom!

Yeah, I’m sure he’s losing sleep over it.