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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.

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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!

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Kool Keith’s Sex Style – Get Ready to Take a Shower

Hey hey, quick question: do you all like porno?

I don’t mean to shock or offend. Certainly I’m not interested in drawing this blog into the gutter with such filthy talk. It’s more of a rhetorical question. Because I’m sure in the course of your life, you’ve probably seen some. It’s okay: it’s natural. There’s no shame in it.

Rapper Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Mr. Gerbick, Keith Thornton) understands this. In fact, if you were to ask him “do you like porno?” he answer would be an unqualified thumbs up.

To prove it, I’m going to share a little anecdote told to me by my friend Chris about three or four years ago. At the time, we were both living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a freelance writer while he did Army Reserve work and got extra cash by working at a pharmacy.

During on Chris’ shifts at the pharmacy, an unmistakable figure walked through the door: Dr. Octagon himself. After a few tentative moments, Keith walked up to the counter looking like a man in need of assistance.

Chris: “Hey, you playing a show in town tonight?”

Mr. Gerbick: “Yeah man yeah, listen, you know where I can find the nearest porn shop?”

If that story left any doubt that Keith was a dedicated porno fanatic, his 1997 album “Sex Style” should wipe it away. I can honestly say that, out of the over 10,000 albums I’ve heard in my life, this is one of the most authentically dirty.

Just take a look at the cover for a minute: it looks like something you’d find in a stained cardboard box in a seedy restroom next in the strip club you’re mother has nightmares about you attending.

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A rare shot of the elusive “Sex Style” in its natural habitat. Grainy? Of course: there’s no other way it could look.

The back cover is even worse: the snap shots look like outtakes from a never-asked-for Kool Keith sex tape. And the album itself is littered with samples from endless porno films and even features “skits” (if you want to call them that) of dirty phone talk and perhaps even simulated (or real) sexual acts.

Blegh!

Blegh!

Mr. Thornton himself defines the album early on in the title track: porno core. Of course it’s brilliant. Thank you for asking.

If you’ve never heard Kool Keith before, the first time is always shocking. The sheer volume of words that spews from his mouth in an average song is immense: there’s a reason he’s one of the top three rappers by vocabulary. Sometimes his lines follow the beat and meter: sometimes they sprawl all over the place.

But, his imagery and wordplay is inspired, deep and bizarre. Just check out the first few verses of what many consider his signature song “Earth People” from his first album “Dr. Octagonecologyst”:

First patient, pull out the skull, remove the cancer
Breakin’ his back, chisel necks for the answer
Supersonic bionic robot voodoo power
Equator ex my chance to flex skills on Ampex

With power meters and heaters gauze anti-freeze
Octagon oxygen, aluminum intoxicants
More ways to blow blood cells in your face
React with four bombs and six fire missiles

Armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols
You may not believe, livin’ on the earth planet
My skin is green and silver, warhead lookin’ mean
Astronauts get played, tough like the ukulele

As I move in rockets, overriding, levels
Nothing’s aware, same data, same system

The hook for this song is: “Earth People, New York and California, Earth People, I was born on Jupiter” repeated four times. Happily, he uses the word “doo-doo” twice in about 30 seconds. “Doo-doo” is among his many weird humor devices which sees him contrast absolutely impeccable word play and disgusting subject matter with child-like phrases and imagery.

Doo-doo is all over “Sex Style.” The album stinks, but in a good way, in the way that Keith intended. Because Keith isn’t just a pervert: he’s a dedicated pervert on a mission. It’s his third album in a row where he invents a new rap style: “Dr. Octagonecologyst” invented “sci-fi-core” while “First Come, First Served” invented horror core.

Each album is as dedicated to that theme as possible and dedication is what sets this album apart from other “porno rap” acts (like “2 Live Crew”). You see, normally, I’d roll my eyes at an album this gross and dismiss it as a novelty. Not in offense (because I’m no prude) but because albums of this type often seem lazy, slapped together and boring no more than a year or two after their release.

But here, Keith dives in head first and swims among the filth. He bathes in it, drinks it up and lets it inhabit his essence. These aren’t simple “hickory, dickory dock” style dirty rhymes. No, a man this dedicated to pornography obviously has a vast vocabulary of filthy words to slip and he doesn’t let down.

The litany of disgusting and vivid sexual metaphors never stops. They just tumble out of Keith like he’s breathing air or reading the phone book. In the title track, it sounds like nothing could be simpler to him than endlessly describing all the perverted things he is going to do/is doing/has already done to … competing rappers.

While it may seem strange to hear Keith describe these acts, it actually fits in well with the tradition of “battle” rapping. In this style, rappers would come up with creative ways to put down their opponent while showing off their rapping prowess.

On this track, and others (including the appropriately titled “Still the Best”), Keith is constantly throwing down the gauntlet to his competing rappers. He just goes to a pretty severe lyrical extreme. Even stranger is the backing track: Kutmaster Kurt works creates an ominous tone with his squeaky-spacey-horror synth sounds. As a result, it musically sounds like something you’d hear in a horror movie..

Those kinds of wild contrasts are what drive the album to extreme states of confusion. For example, the song “Make Up Your Mind” have a funky groove that’s catchy as hell, but features “tortured” lyrics about a guy trying to get his girl to choose between him and the other guys she’s been seeing.
As the album goes on, one would be tempted to think that the notoriously inconsistent (especially in later years) rapper would start to slip up. And frankly, tracks like “Still the Best” and “Plastic World” don’t adhere to the theme, though both are fine songs.

However, the constantly engaging music and the legitimately wild, complex and disturbing wordplay Keith indulges in creates an atmosphere I’ve never heard in any other album: steamy and wet. If this album was a person, it would walk around all day wearing nothing but a trench coat.

With a rapper less dedicated (and talented) the album would have been a mess. But Keith gives in totally to his perverted side and lets loose with his typically left-field observations and word combinations to create a one-of-a-kind album.

“Tales from a Lush Attic” by I.Q. or…Neo-Prog Catastrophe!

I literally just finished my review of “Calling All Stations” by Genesis and was looking through a folder on my desktop called “Relisten” and saw an album I forgot I recently downloaded: “Tales from a Lush Attic” by I.Q.

Yes, it’s progressive rock. How could you tell?

As a matter of fact, it’s the 1983 or so neo-prog semi-debut by a band named after the term “Intelligence Quotient.” That’s how you know they’re serious and very good: they’re literally the concept of intelligence.

Is this what the band was all on about?!

Hey, you ever notice how “neo” usually prefaces things that either outright suck, blow or are even somewhat totally terrifying?

Neo-conservative. Neo-Nazi. Neo-prog. See what I mean?

I mean come on…Marillion…Dream Theater…Ayeron…Anglagard…I’ve heard so much of that “neo-prog” crap that I could just about fucking puke blood on a bag of recently orphaned kittens.

Only two out of say 1,000 of those neo-prog bands ever did anything for me. Anglagard sounds so much like an exact mixture of every major prog band that I find them fascinating. They’re hardly even “neo-prog.” More like “regressive prog” but that contradiction is just strange enough to excite me.

Neo-prog is by it’s very nature completely and utterly derivative. That’s kind of the fun of it: to spot which bands they’re stealing from, what ideas they’re stealing, how they’ve masked the ideas, whether they’re capable of writing original melodies and how dramatically over serious they take themselves.

Can you figure out the IQ challenge?!

Anglagard is still my best band for band in this category because they don’t sound like anybody: they sound like EVERYBODY. One moment, it’s a pastoral fantasy ripped right from early Genesis, the next it’s stern, semi-comic, snare drum marches straight out of “Thick as a Brick” and suddenly they’re Gentle Giant with convoluted guitar and keyboard interaction.

Perhaps best of all, almost never sing and they almost never take themselves too seriously. They seem to play their music out of a sincere love of progressive rock which is a heartfelt enough to avoid trashing their intentions.

I.Q. is a bit different. It’s not too hard to see who they are modeling themselves after: Peter Nichols is a stunning Peter Gabriel mimic. Actually, I take that back: Nichols is mostly very good at performing the “stern” Gabriel vibe. Everything he sings is dark hued, smoky declamations or important sounding shouts. Nichols never touches on the delicacy of “The Carpet Crawlers” or the hilarity of “Return of the Giant Hogweed.”

Nah, it’s all just “Look at me! Look at me! I’m saying something very important about the world!” when they are, in fact, saying the same old “important thing about the world” that everybody else has already said a thousand times.

Bollocks. Can’t fault his singing in a technical sense (as he is a technically good singer) but the effect is rather dull.

If you know what “bollocks” means, you’d probably declare this drink “dangerous to drink.”

Musically, the band is Genesis if they had resisted the urge to progress into their art-electro-pop stage after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left and had continued to write progressive music. In this universe, Gabriel and Hackett never left but integrated 80’s sensibilities, production techniques and playing styles into a 70’s progressive rock format.

So, the playful sense of humor is mostly gone as is the wonderful diversity of approaches that Genesis touched on in the past. So is their pop sensibility which infected even their most convoluted prog “masterpiece.”

That’s not entirely true. I.Q. doesn’t eschew pop sensibilities completely or focus on dissonance. After all, it’s not like I.Q. is playing John Zorn. Each song has a logical build, with several recurring melodies and rather straight forward song structures. Yes, the band gets busy on the arrangements but that’s mostly to hide the fact that they’re more-or-less playing pretty simple songs.

Whoa! My I.Q. is WAAY to low to get THIS!

This is the common bane with neo-prog (simple music but busy arrangements to sound more “complex”) but I.Q. pulls it off better than others simply due to the quality of their music.  These guys will never knock any of the prog greats off their thrones but everything is well written, occasionally catchy and at the very least highly melodic in a forgetable way.

That isn’t an insult: the album is pleasant while its on and some melodies may even stick in your head. But nothing is hard hitting, unforgettable or truly memorable. It’s all simply “pleasant” and “fun” without being too annoying.

20 minute opener “The Last Human Gateway” (see what I mean about the seriousness of neo-prog?) tells you all you need to know about the album and the band: simple, but engaging build up from organ led chants, complex, busy drumming, wild guitar soloing, Nichols preaching it up like archangel Peter Gabriel and the bass player laying down complex, busy, constantly shifting melodic bass lines.

As a result, “The Last Human Gateway” is  a lot of fun for the prog fan that wants some background music but is sick of hearing “Close to the Edge” or even “Land of the Grey and Pink” for the 100th time. Everything they play has been done by better bands but they tweak just enough of the ideas to stay as original as possible within the limited confines of the neo-prog rule book.

Hell, they write their own melodies. Isn’t that neat? And they name a classical piano interlude “My Baby Treats Me Right Cuz I’m a Hard Loving Man” so they can’t be all that bad.

Sure beats the stuffing outta Dream Theater.

They got something important to say…but first, here’s a 20 minute guitar and synthesizer fugue that illustrates the rise and fall of man.

The big reason these guys get a pass from me when other, more famous and highly selling bands make me puke is that they never seem to be taking everything too seriously. Sure, the song titles are a little pretentious and Nichols seems much too serious for his own good, but there’s a sense of fun in what they’re doing, a playfulness in their approach and playing (they were, after all, barely teenagers when this came out) that makes it much more infectious than Dream Theater’s latest operatic musically myopic masturbatepiece.

But don’t lose your mind trying to collect this band’s work. I’d say you could get this and maybe the later “The Wake” which is more “pop oriented” by including more tracks with shorter song lengths and you’ll get a good idea of what this band represents.

I know I didn’t review every single song on the album: for the most part, it all sounds exactly the same from one second to the next. Everything is constantly shifting, the arrangements stay the same and nobody ever plays anything truly memorable. The style is very uniform throughout the album in a way that makes it hard to discuss in depth.

Seriously, you’ve literally heard it all with “The Last Human Gateway.” Youtube it if you’re curious.

p.s. This reviews sounds like I hate the band. I don’t. I’m just being honest about their potential. They’re a lot of fun. But nothing mind blowing if you’ve heard the prog greats already.

“Space Ritual” by Hawkwind

Okay, so here’s an update on the “Savage Hippie” situation: I know I promised that I would have some Hawkwind reviews from Edwin for Thursday but Edwin wrote such a HUGE volume of reviews that it didn’t seem right for me to hoard them for my site. I encouraged him to start his own blog, which you can find here. He will still contribute on Wednesdays but his main focus will be on his own site.

YES!

I mention this to avoid any confusion you may have felt over a lack of reviews and to also apologize to Edwin: I’m somewhat stepping on his toes here by reviewing a Hawkwind album.

But it’s only one album and its the one Hawkwind album I know well as its the only Hawkwind album I own: their first (double) live album and perennial fan favorite “Space Ritual.”

Hawkwind is a band that revels in complete and utter b-level cheesiness: they’re a lot like watching a Roger Corman movie. It’s cheaply made, goofily written and presented and absolutely hilarious.

But, like Corman at his best, there is actual love for the art and actual care taken into the presentation to make it as entertaining and sometimes as “deep” and “artistic” as possible.

To extend the Corman metaphor to its fullest, “Space Ritual” is Hawkwind’s “Fall of the House of Usher.” It’s the band’s peak album that shows off their full potential in a way that they could never possibly top, not even with lame sequels.

Hawkwind’s first three albums were definitely not bad: their first was kind of a hippie jam band thing while the second and third coalesced around the idea of repetitive cosmic metal. However, somewhat crude production values and the occasional acoustic guitar sapped some of the albums of their power.

Don’t get me wrong: I love acoustic guitar. I think it’s a great instrument that is somewhat under utilized or utilized poorly. And Dave Brock (guitar player for Hawkwind) is a solid enough guitar player and songwriter that his could pull off a slower, more ballad oriented song.

But Dave is endlessly more fascinating on distorted, electric guitar. And Hawkwind is at their best bashing out simple but catchy riffs while throwing endless bloops, bleeps, saxophone wails and wild bass from Lemmy.

Ah, Lemmy. What more can you say about the man? I am not the biggest Motorhead fan but I adore the man as an image and as a human being and songwriter. He seems completely down to Earth and normal in a way you don’t get from a lot of heavy metal superstars. And his bass playing gives this album a rock solid beat  from beginning to end.

The most important aspect of this album is its conceptual nature: it’s supposed to represent some sort of trip through space or a…space ritual, if you will, and as such it is to represent a whole sum of the space travel experience.

Did I mention Hawkwind had an over six foot tall exotic dancer who performed with them, often completely nude and painted with wild symbols, interpreting their music through dancer? This was the cleanest image of her I could find.

To that end, they chuck on a lot of weird sonic collages, monologues, weird poems and endless levels of personal insanity from Robert Calvert, part time singer and lyricist and complete lunatic.

I won’t go into great detail on Calvert but he is a complete believer of his sci-fi gibberish and he delivers it with so much conviction it’s kinda scary.

Yes, these monologues and lyrics are sometimes completely inane “in the fifth second of forever…this is what to do during a SONIC ATTACK” etc but they don’t strike me as banal as Graeme Edge’s poems from the Moody Blues albums.

They’re not examples of great poetry. There’s not even examples of “good” poetry. Hell, they’re not even examples of good “rock” poetry. But they’re delivered with such firm seriousness that you start to fall for their charm in spite of their lunacy.

Most importantly, these interludes tear the album from the reigns of a typical live album and create an atmosphere that the band never really replicated on any other album. The album truly FEELS like a space ritual (whatever that means) and it wouldn’t really have that feel without the insanity of Calvert.

The songs on the album are a mix of old and new. The band smartly arranges the old songs with the new in a way that feels natural and helps the album feel more conceptual. Starting with the old chestnut “Born to Go” was a great idea: it feels like the perfect song to launch a space flight. Brock and Lemmy lock into a tight, distorted groove as the drummer bashes about and the “extra” players layer on the sonic “extras” that give Hawkwind a little extra “spark.”

This album contains the first Hawkwind song I ever heard, “Orgone Accumulator” and it remains, for me, the definitive Hawkwind experience. It mixes everything that’s great and goofy about the band in nearly equal measure and is simply a lot of fun.

The track starts out with some sort of synthesizer/oscillator noise that sounds completely dirty and odd, as if it was farting or burping. Awesome. Brock starts playing a simple three chord riff while Lemmy jumps in line behind him. The drums kick in and instantly create a trance-atmosphere.

Calvert then starts singing…and its glorious.

“I got an orgone accumulator…and it makes me feel greater…I’ll see you sometime later…when I’m through with my accumulator…it’s no social integrator…it’s a one man isolator…it’s a back brain stimulator…it’s a cerebral vibrator…”

By the way, an “orgone accumulator” is a device that allegedly collected “orgone energy” from the atmosphere and gathered it in your brain. You wore a kind of hat connected to wires. It was supposed to bring you a new sense of focus, new positive energy and was the invention of a new age nut job.

So yes. It’s obviously a “cerebral vibrator.” And yes, a “back brain stimulator.”

An orgone accumulator. Does it look like he’s feeling greater?

Which is awesome, but not as awesome as the series of saxophone, guitar, bass, and synthesizer solos that follow Calvert’s awesomely catchy vocal renditions of the lyrics. Brock is no pro: he throws on tons of distortion and special effects to match his somewhat limited technique. But somehow his endless wah-wah solos transcend his limitations to become trance enducing.

I don’t know how he does it. I also don’t know how Lemmy gets such an amazing bass sound and I don’t understand how a drummer playing the same simple beat and simple fills could sound so perfect for 10 minutes.

But he does. The only drummer who can play one beat for an entire song and make it a thrilling masterpiece of drumming economy is,  Can’s Jaki Liebezeit but Hawkwind’s drummer…I was going to say “comes close” but no. He doesn’t.

Look: Hawkwind is obviously a second and perhaps even third tier band as far as social import, impact and pure songwriting goes. But there’s just something about what they do that works in spite of the simplicity of it. Nobody is a super pro on their instrument (though Lemmy continues to show great chops) and the whole atmosphere reeks of cheap thrills, bubblegum and buttery popcorn.

But do we always have to be so serious? Yes, most of the time, you’ll want pure poetry (Bob Dylan) psychological thrills (Peter Gabriel) or even pure, incoherent rage (PJ Harvey at her best) in your lyrics.

Sometimes, however, you just need to watch “Godzilla Vs. Biolante” while chugging seven or eight beers and laughing your ass off. Sometimes, you need a bunch of drug addled lunatics trying to take you on a diverse, mind blowing space journey without once changing the time signature.

That’s where Hawkwind come in and why “Space Ritual” is perhaps the greatest musical b-movie style thrill ride you’ll ever experience.

“Ash Ra Tempel” Debut

Walk like an Egyptian.

The world can only contain so much…stuff…there’s only so much room. You cannot cram 50 pounds of horse shit into a 40 pound bag. Buildings can grow taller and we can civilize more and more areas of the world; bulldozing trees, swamps, grasslands, prairies and creating new and bigger parking lots. All our cars need a place to live and all our stuff needs a place to lie.

Sooner, rather than later, we’ll have to ascend into the straosphere and find a place to settle in space. And I know the album I’ll listen to on the way up: Ash Ra Tempel’s debut album.

That’s right: I’m snubbing the obvious choice, Pink Floyd (love them, but too obvious) and even more obscure yet still popular groups like Hawkwind (kick ass but way too cheesy, even if in a good way).

No, I’m sticking with the Ash Ra Tempel debut album. Not because it creates an accurate space sonic sensation (as that would be complete silence so severe your ears would burst) but simply because its one of the best pieces of Early space rock I’ve ever heard.

After all, if one is traveling in space, space rock IS a requirement.

What about this album entices me so much over the non-pedestrian sounds of early Pink Floyd and Hawkwind? Is it simply the fact that is is German?

Not quite though I do obsessively enjoy way too much 70’s German rock. Being German doesn’t automatically make it better but it does serve as a draw for me.

The musicianship on the album is vital to its appeal: the pedigree of the players is unmatched in the space rock genre. I don’t mean to knock early Pink Floyd as Syd Barrett and (eventually) Roger Waters were great songwriters but their musicianship (especially Syd’s) was somewhat…rudimentary sometimes.

Manuel Gottsching is a guitar God (mixing a 70’s hard rock style with near-shred levels of technicality mixed with experimental guitar textures and real emotion) who possesses a nearly unlimited level of intelligence and unmatched imagination.

Drummer Klaus Schulze is another German rock legend, known for his epic synthesizer symphonies that have inspired entire generations of trance and pulse electronic music. Here, he serves primarily as a drummer and he is an even better drummer than he is a synthesist.

The bass player is very solid too (I forget his name) as he holds down the fort, plays Entwistle level runs and who serves as a solid grounding for the rest of the band.

The other reason this stands out so firmly for me is the lack of vocals and vocal melodies. Of course, this is a draw back in many ways: you won’t be singing along to any of the “melodies” on this album. Ever.

But the lack of vocals dehumanizes the music in a way that makes it starker and more alien than the scraping landscapes of early Floyd or the heavy-metal-thunder of Hawkwind.

No vocals also means no lyrics which were always, always incredibly weak in Hawkwind. It never gets much better than “I got an orgone accumulator…and it makes me feel greater!”

Ash Ra Tempel doesn’t annoy you with trite space themed lyrics or inane fantasy poetry: instead, they just play. For 20 minutes at a time.

Starring Rosi.

The epic lengths of the average Ash Ra Tempel composition will be a problem for many listeners but that’s part of the appeal for me: the band explores various textures, melodic ideas and rhythmic motifs throughout each track in a way that is naturally flowing and never, ever seems forced.

It’s always amazing to hear Gottsching and Schulze play together: they seem to have a near-telepathic ability to read each other’s musical thoughts and to predict where the other is going without fail.

There is always the chance, of course, that these tracks are heavily edited and pieced together. It wasn’t above Miles Davis (in fact, it was his whole fusion aesthetic) but somehow I just don’t sense that same kind of editing here.

The album follows a basic format that many “side long track” albums have in the past: the first side is the hard rocking side, while the second side is the “contemplative” side (Terry Riley influence?).

The first side, “Amboss” is a track that Ash Ra Tempel never really beat: they came close on “Freak N’ Roll” on Join Inn but they never matched this track’s dark, pulsing mood.

It starts out slowly, with some guitar drone and light cymbals and a bass moan but gradually builds up as Gottsching starts to solo and riff like a demented (and dangerous) version of Early Clapton. Schulze smashes and bashes like Keith Moon but generally keeps a better beat.

Describing tracks like this is a fruitless, thankless, nearly impossible endeavor: there are countless build-ups, fall downs, moments of climactic ecstasy and impeccable interplay and musicianship. George Starostin astutely compared it to “Live at Leeds” era Who in its interplay and that’s very accurate. There’s just no Roger Daltrey.

However, the second side is something the Who never would have done: a 20+ minute, nearly ambient tune that simmers at a lower level than “Amboss” but which still has its own sense of intensity and purpose.

Beyond the lower tempo, there isn’t any real way to tell apart the two tracks which is fine: it creates a more unified mood of space exploration that no band (including Ash Ra Tempel) ever topped.

After this album, Schulze left and the band floundered through a solid, but more conventional second album and a collaboration with Timothy Leary that never really caught fire.

The Schulze reunion album “Join Inn” (as previously mentioned) has the same structure and the same basic fire and drive of this album but without the carefully created atmosphere. After Gottsching created the fun, diverse and completely out-of-left-field pop-like album “Starring Rosi” he created a solo album, formed “Ashra” and explored more synthetic textures.

As a result, this album stands somewhat apart from the rest of Gottsching and Schulze’s discography, making it an even more worthy addition to your collection.

Songs to YouTube:

There are two songs. Listen to them both.

“Rid of Me” by PJ Harvey

Head banging.

I feel a little content at the moment…rather contemplative and relaxed. I got all my “work” online writing done and I’m sitting at the coffee shop listening to “Friendship” by Ash Ra Tempel, the reunion album between Manuel Goestscling and Klaus Schulze from 2000. Ain’t nothing special but it’s chill and easy to relax to while I people watch.

Lots of beautiful girls out in town this summer. Normally, this town is completely void of any interesting and engaging females (not completely but damn close) but college is out and they have all come back to town. They fill up the coffee shop. They fill up the bars. They steal my hats and tickle my belly at bars on my birthday (true story and good alliteration).

I have a desire to review the first Ash Ra Tempel album right now. It’s a good album; hard hitting space rock with real fire and an edge to it that sits well with the modern generation. But I haven’t heard it in quite some time, so I don’t think it’s fair that I should review it.

Honestly, I’m feeling a bit PJ Harvey-like at the moment. A bit fiery and confrontational. Beautiful and mournful. Angry, happy, melancholic, depressed, elated and most importantly as free and refreshing as a God damn swam dive into a 50 degree pond on a 100 degree summer day.

“Rid of Me.” Not the first Polly Jean album I’ve ever heard. Perhaps the first Polly Jean SONG I heard…the slow build up of palm muted guitars, a near whisper of a voice, curling around a purr of a vocal melody and a lyric that contains all the rage of all the women who have ever been discarded like a candy wrapper in the wind.

Climax. Scream. “Don’t you wish you’d never…never met her don’t you…” Singing through a distortion pedal. “Lick my legs I’m on fire.” Whatever that means. A 5’1” ball of fury and English rage and semi-incoherency coalescing into a slow burn groove that threatens to fall apart under the eye of Albini.

I haven’t heard this album in ages but I can always come back to it and remember the songs that have always stuck out in my head: I can also re-live the songs that have never made an impression on me and make in-grounds on appreciating them more and more. It’s a slow process: I probably listen to this album less than once a year.

Albini casts his careless “production” eye towards this album, helping set up the instruments, pushing “record” when the band starts playing and hitting “stop” when they’re done, cutting up tapes to arrange songs into the right order. Refusing to touch up the tapes in anyway, leaving them as they stand on the performances and on the songs. After all, it was “recorded by” not “produced by” Steve Albini.

Forgive her, then, if the songs sometimes sound similar. The arrangements are usually just pounding/grinding guitars with a solid rhythmic bass and drum groove that pounds home the ideas, arguments and sensibilities of one Polly Jean Harvey who pulled back from such underproduction almost immediately on her next album and explored deeper sonic sensibilities with each subsequent release.

Deeper doesn’t always mean better but it doesn’t mean worse either. Deeper is just different.

“Man Size Sextet” comes before the tune its based on, which I always found amusing. It is highlighted by a grinding, plucking, frightening string arrangement played entirely by Harvey (unless I’m wrong). It stands out due to its sonic difference from the normal guitar, drums bass racket raised elsewhere on the album. And also due to Harvey’s frantic, pleading vocal…”I’m man size…” she despairs, chanting about her birth rite and creeping me the fuck out. In a good way. In a GREAT way.

The original “Man Size” isn’t quite as good to these ears: those scraping strings set the mood better than her relatively simple guitar playing. A whole album of “Man Size Sextet”-style tunes wouldn’t be my bag but on this album it’s poyfect.

Her cover of “Highway 61 Revisited” is also a stand out: not necessarily better than Bob’s original (I miss the wild whistle) and definitely not as easy on the ears. However, I believe it captures the intense, neurotic and apocalyptic vibe better than Bob’s take.

“HIGHWAY!!!! HIGHWAY!!! 61.” Not to hell. Sorry Bon, but as a wordsmith you’re no Bob Dylan. You ain’t even an Alice Cooper (who Dylan called an “underrated” songwriter) but at least you’re better than Brian Johnson (who never met seven metaphors he couldn’t mix) or the Young brothers (I’m sorry, but “you’ve been…THUNDERSTRUCK!” is NOT a good chorus).

Bon Scott is also no PJ Harvey but that’s only because she’d probably loathe his guts for being a sexist pig. But then again, it’s always hard to tell with PJ Harvey: one minute, she’s bashing out a song called “Dry” and bemoaning the fact that her man can’t get her wet and the next moaning about “Ecstasy” (not the drug, kiddies). She doesn’t hate men, as such: she just hates specific ones.

Some songs don’t really make much sense lyrically which is cool. It just means I haven’t listened to them carefully enough to decipher their meaning and it gives me something to focus on with my next listen.

For example, while I love the drive of “Yuri G” I have no idea what “I wish I were a Yuri G!” means? Is she speaking of Yuri Gregarian? The first man into space?

I hope so: I’d love to think that PJ Harvey was singing about her desire to be a cosmonaut.

Naturally, that desire to be a cosmonaut is most likely a metaphor for some other desire or dream, perhaps indicating Harvey simply wants to be a pioneer or a similarly important person. Great song, great album, strange, strange, strange…

What I like most about PJ Harvey and this record in particular is that she is a very small person who can create very hard hitting music while screaming incredibly loud (and on key) in a way that is emotionally moving in exactly the way she intended.

In that regard, she has a lot in common with AC/DC. Sure, they’re singing about how being cool and doing it instead of accurately detailing one woman’s rage in a harrowing manner. They seem worlds apart in that regard.

But what I like most about AC/DC is that they’re very small people (about 4’0” on average), who create hard hitting music while screaming incredibly loudly (on key) in a way that is emotionally moving in exactly the way they intended.

Sure, they mean to make you giggle and dance awkwardly while hitting on chicks in bars while PJ wants to touch your heart and make you think about the female condition. But then again, the devil’s in the details.

“The Adventures of Schoolly D”

Even the cover looks home made.

I’m not an expert on old school rap but I’ve heard a little Run DMC and Public Enemy and I can dig. One of the most interesting things about old school rap is how much it differs from the “hardcore gangster” image that many modern rappers project.

Many semi-wise music sages point to NWA and their early 90’s “Straight Outta Compton” album as the birth of gangsta rap. This is true, in a basic way as it popularized the genre and neutered the more “fun” oriented Run DMC as well as the more “serious” approach of Public Enemy.

A wiser rap sage would point to Ice T as the original gangsta rapper (the “OG” if you will, and Ice T sure did). Songs such as “Six in the Morning” create a fully realized universe of gansterdom that is still followed by rappers to this day: a misogynist outlook that glorifies violence while simultaneously pointing out the pitfalls of such a lifestyle.

One can always dig deeper, of course, and when one does some more research, they find that even T had a musical inspiration: he points out Scholly D as being one of his primary influences, stating he believed D was the first gangster rapper of all time, pointing out “PSK” as the first song about and glorifying gang violence in America.

Schoolly D (Jesse B. Weaver Jr) is these days best known for providing the hilarious (if strange) theme song for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” or for being mentioned in a song by Primus. As a result, many people tend to think that Schoolly is simply a goofy rapper or even focused entirely in humor.

Humor is a big part of his approach but it’s unfair to paint him as a simple “gag” rapper. In fact, his early work (compiled on “The Adventures of Schoolly D” which is what I’m reviewing now, in case you couldn’t tell) is some of the rawest, dirtiest, most basic rap I’ve ever heard in my life.

Musically, D worked with DJ Code Money. Code Money’s beats are…well…basic. Often, they consist entirely of a simple drum machine beat and basic, basic scratching. A few simple effects (such as phase) are sometimes employed as are a few instances of one or two overdubbed voices. Other than that, it feels live and raw.

The best example of this approach is the tune that originally turned me onto Scholly D: “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.”

It opens with a simple high hat drum beat, scratched loops with Schoolly proclaiming “Yo, yo, what’s up man, this ain’t Prince man, this ain’t Prince…this is Schoolly…we RAP.” Astute ears spot the record Code Money is scratching is “I Love Rock and Roll.” Perfect.

Schoolly is obviously setting up a rap manifesto and contrasting it with that rather awful ode to rock and roll. The first line of the song says it all: “rock and roll living is the thing of the past/so all you long haired faggots can kiss my ass.”

Later, Schoolly explained that it wasn’t exactly rock and roll in general he had a problem with but what it had become in the 80’s i.e. the corporate rock, hair and glam metal nonsense. Naturally, using the word “faggot” is a bit of a no-no these days but isn’t (unfortunately) uncommon in the rap world.

Schoolly isn’t exactly the cleanest or most fluent rapper on these early cuts but he is an excellent wordsmith and story teller. I actually love his sometimes awkward way of spitting out rhymes: it adds to the murky, weird atmosphere of the songs.

“Saturday Night” is something like a “gag” song in that it features a drunk Schoolly bringing home a “fat bitch” and getting chased around the house by his mother with a shot gun. Misogynist as all hell, of course, but it sets the tone for further misogyny in rap music. Which makes it influential but unfortunately so.

And then there is “PSK” which is probably the earliest highly detailed description of gang violence in rap music. It’s a bit antiquated these days especially boasts about “knocking em out” but it’s a truly precedent setting tune who’s influence can be seen in dozens, if not hundreds of songs.

Other moments that stand out include Schoolly’s freestyle rap on…”Freestyle Rap” (much of his stuff was totally improvised) as well as the rather strange space instrumental “It’s Krak” which loops Steve Miller synthesizer effects to create something more spacy and interesting than that unengaging piece of garbage ever did.

Sorry I hate Steve Miller with a passion.

There are problems with the record, however. As influential as it is and as much as I like the atmosphere and approach, it simply gets wearing. The album is as DIY as it comes, basically recorded in a bedroom, but it’s lo-fi approach makes the songs sound too similar and hard to differentiate.

And then there is the obvious negative influence it has had on the rap world. While Schoolly is obviously rapping with a big grin on his face and Ice T could rap about these gangster cliches intelligently, too many horrible, horrible rappers have been influenced by this music. It also created a violent rap subculture that has led to the deaths of too many people.

However, one cannot shove too much shame Schoolly’s way: after all, influence is influence but music is music. And Schoolly definitely stands above his influence to simply become highly engaging and entertaining music.

Songs to Youtube:

Find the official video for “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.” It’s a lot of fun.