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.
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.
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.
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.
Audrey takes a look at the darker side of the 70’s music scene with Manson family connection, Jimmy Page, and more, all connected to a strange rock and roll album…
From the beginning, there were always connections between the Manson family and music. The obvious story was the one of Charlie’s own failed music career, and the horrible crimes that were committed because of that. I’m not going to talk about that today, though: there was another member of the Manson family was also creating interesting music before any of the murders happened in ’69. That man is Bobby Beausoleil, and much like Charlie, he is currently serving a life sentence for murder.
Though this article obviously isn’t meant to be about his motives or the details of the crime (this is primarily a music blog, after all), I will divulge a bit of information about what happened: Beausoleil was involved in the murder of Gary Hinman, a music teacher; allegedly, Hinman owed money to the Manson family for a bad batch of mescaline that they had purchased from him and sold to a biker gang, who subsequently demanded their money refunded when they realized the drugs were faulty. On July 27, 1969, Beausoleil (along with family members Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner) showed up at Hinman’s house in an attempt to get their money back. When he refused to pay them, Hinman called Manson to the scene, who arrived at the house and promptly chopped Hinman’s ear off with a sword. When Hinman still insisted that he didn’t have money to give them, Beausoleil stabbed him to death. Afterwards, they wrote “Political Piggy” on the wall in his blood. Alongside that, they also drew a paw print in an attempt to make it appear that the crime was committed by the Black Panthers. This was the first of the string of gruesome murders committed by the Manson Family: a little over a week later, Beausoleil was arrested after he was found driving Hinman’s car.
Before his incarceration, Beausoleil played in several different bands; the most notable of which was Arthur Lee’s Grass Roots (no relation to Creed Bratton’s band of the same name), who later became the very influential Love. He also played in a psychedelic rock band called The Orkustra following the Grass Roots’ dissolution. Not only was Beausoleil involved in music, but he was also an aspiring actor, which is incidentally where his most famous recording Lucifer Rising comes into the picture.
It’s impossible to talk about this album without bringing up yet another important ‘60s icon: Kenneth Anger. If you’re not familiar with the name, Anger made a lot of experimental short films throughout the ‘40s up until recent years, usually blending surrealist imagery with occultist themes. Anger was a follower of Aleister Crowley’s religion of Thelema and made many references to it in his works, including the short film Lucifer Rising, which featured Beausoleil in a major role. The original plan was that Bobby would be the star of the production and that the music would be composed by Jimmy Page. Unfortunately, there were many issues during the production of the film. The actual filming was delayed many times due to a number of problems: Anger claimed that Beausoleil stole the original footage, but the rest of the cast stated that this didn’t happen and that Anger simply ran out of money. Another major issue involved the soundtrack; Page and Anger had a falling out during the creation of the film: one story says that Anger began to question Page’s devotion to the Thelemic way and, because of this, he placed a curse on the Led Zeppelin star. Another, likelier story is that Page wasn’t working as quickly as Anger wanted him to and, in his stead, the filmmaker tapped Beausoleil to compose the score in addition to being involved as an actor. Either way, after an argument with Charlotte Martin – Page’s longtime lover and the mother of his first child – Anger washed his hands of Page.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad decision on Anger’s part considering that Beausoleil is an extremely talented musician in his own right. The most amazing thing about this record is that it was entirely recorded behind bars. Even more remarkable, especially considering the occult and otherwise taboo themes of Anger’s films, Beausoleil was given permission by the warden of Tracy State Prison – where he was incarcerated for his involvement in the Manson crimes – to create this soundtrack. With the help of some incredibly skilled inmates, the record was created in the late ‘70s. I really wish that I could find more information about the recording process of this album: it sounds absolutely incredible given where it was recorded. I can’t imagine that a prison in the 1970s would keep very many (if any) decent musical instruments around, let alone any recording equipment, so the amount of cooperation between the prison and the outside world would have been unprecedented. Despite the locale where it was made, this album sounds as if professional engineers were on hand to record it using somewhat decent studio equipment. While this technical consideration would be quite remarkable if true, I suppose it made sense that they were able to find such great musicians among the inmates given that this was a prison in southern California during the drug-conservative 1970s: there were probably plenty of talented musicians who were incarcerated for narcotics and other minor crimes.
The album is completely instrumental and separated into six movements. The music contained within is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd; all the tracks are dreamy psychedelic soundscapes that act as a showcase for Beausoleil’s exquisite compositional skills and guitar work. That’s not to say that Beausoleil’s playing is the most important part of the record; the session musicians are incredibly tight and focused as well – especially the horn player. There are moments in the fifth movement where the trumpet becomes the main focus, and is just as beautiful as the guitar on the rest of the album.
While it isn’t necessary to do so if one merely wishes to enjoy the record as a musical statement, it helps to watch the film to see how the portions of the score that were selected for inclusion (the soundtrack album’s runtime is about 46 minutes to the film’s 29) complement Anger’s visuals. Due to all of the production delays involving the soundtrack’s rather unique circumstances, Lucifer Rising – although completely filmed by 1972 – wasn’t released until 1980. Although it features luminaries such as Anger himself and Marianne Faithful (as well as Mick Jagger’s brother, Chris, in a minor role), there is no dialogue to speak of, giving Beausoleil’s musical contribution an even greater importance. The finished work is loaded with Thelemic symbolism as well as a lot of very dated looking psychedelic effects, which makes for an entertaining watch if you’re in the right mindset (stoned *cough*). Honestly, I would have probably enjoyed Anger’s film a lot more if I were knowledgeable about Crowley and his teachings: as I’m only mildly aware of Crowley’s philosophies, I’m sure that most of the symbolism went straight over my head. Even if I didn’t completely understand what was going on, it’s still cool to have Anger’s cinematography in the back of my head while listening to the album: I can’t hear it now without picturing pyramids and volcanoes.
Since this record was written by a famous murderer and completely performed by inmates, one would think that this album would only hold value as a curiosity for record collectors and outsider music enthusiasts, yet this is not the case at all. It is probably best not to get caught up with that notion since this album doesn’t deserve to be cast aside as simply a novelty: It is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the ostensibly limiting conditions under which it was created. Anyone interested in hearing some really great psychedelic instrumentals and guitar work should check this one out, since – even casting aside its interesting context – it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Audrey is back with some words of wisdom on a far out band from Japan. Dig it.
A lot of feird music comes from Japan. Thinking about this has inspired me to write about one of my favorite groups to come out of Nihon. What I’m reviewing today is going to look pretty tame compared to the ridiculousness that is the Gerogerigegege, but bear with me: this is still pretty weird, especially considering when the band began creating records. Les Rallizes Dénudés may not have recorded themselves shitting their pants (at least, not that I know of…) or masturbated on stage, but I promise that this is worth your time if you like avant-garde music.
Are you still there? Good. Les Rallizes Dénudés (a linguistic mash-up of Japanese and French that translates to ‘they who are fucked up and naked’) formed as a concrete entity in 1967, its members originally bound together as an avant-garde musical theatre troupe. The band was led by the incredible guitarist and vocalist Takashi Mizutani. LRD became infamous in Japan for their intense, visual live performances and extreme leftist politics. In 1970, they became even more infamous when one of the members decided it’d be a good idea to hijack a plane.
Bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi was a member of the Japanese Red Army – a Communist group formed in the early ‘70s whose ultimate goal was to overthrow the Japanese government and eventually spread their message all over the world. Nine members of the JRA, including Wakabayashi, boarded Japanese Airlines Flight 351 on March 31, 1970 with the intention of hijacking the plane and flying it all the way to Cuba. They apparently didn’t plan this very well, since the flight that they hijacked was only traveling 45 minutes away and there wasn’t actually enough fuel in the plane to make it all the way to the Caribbean. The plane ended up landing in Pyongyang, North Korea, where the hijackers were given refuge and treated as heroes. Most of them stayed in the country for over thirty years until they were eventually allowed back into Japan: those who returned were immediately arrested. Supposedly, Mizutani was also asked to join in the hijacking, but he declined, choosing to stay in Japan. It’s a good thing that he did, or some of the heaviest music ever to come from that part of the world wouldn’t have been created.
The most direct comparison that one could make with this band would be that they’re somewhat like the Velvet Underground: the band even dressed similarly, wearing all black clothes and dark sunglasses; Mizutani looked like he could have been the Japanese Lou Reed. Their live shows were also very similar to Warhol and the Velvets’ Exploding Plastic Inevitable revue, featuring bright strobe lights and crushingly loud feedback. While they were very obviously influenced by the group, Les Rallizes Dénudés can’t simply be discounted as Velvet Underground rip-off: after all, they went a step beyond what the Velvets did. By turning the volume up even higher, playing their songs for much longer, and adding much more reverb to their vocals, their sound was significantly more disorienting and psychedelic than anything the Velvets ever did.
Aside from the Japanese noise music enthusiasts and the artists they influenced (most notably High Rise, Fushitsusha, and the Acid Mothers Temple collective of music groups), the band was largely forgotten by most until 2007, when Julian Cope’s brilliant book Japrocksampler was published. Les Rallizes Dénudés were one of the bands he chose to focus an entire chapter on, leading to a resurgence of interest in the band among aficionados of avant-garde sounds.
If you’ve ever heard anything by this band, it’s likely that the recording was a bootleg: Rallizes had almost no official releases, and next-to-nothing of their cumulative output was recorded in the studio. However, when looking at the massive array of unofficial material, deciding where to start can certainly seem intimidating: their rateyourmusic.com page lists over 70 third-party records, many of which are sourced from grainy live recordings and contain multiple discs. In my opinion, a good place to start is the aptly titled Heavier Than a Death in the Family: this bootleg record – a collection of recordings the band made mostly dating in or around 1977 (with the exception of the track ‘People Can Choose’, which was recorded in 1973) – is widely considered to be one of their best.
The thing about Les Rallizes Dénudés is that while their discography is enormous, there really isn’t much variety in it. That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing – after all, their recordings were consistently pretty good, if you’re into that sort of thing. The only problem is that – for me, anyhow – it gets boring after awhile. Since I’m kind of insane, I’ve done the hard job for you and listened to hours and hours of their recordings. I can honestly say that Heavier Than a Death in the Family is probably the most solid overall. The record features only six tracks, although most clock in at over ten minutes. In terms of musical content, the core of the record is just primitive rock and roll. It features simple, repetitive riffs, throbbing bass lines, and steady drumming. Sounds easy enough to get into, right? Wrong.
The thing that really sets this band and this album apart is the noise. One of the main things Les Rallizes Dénudés are known for is how ridiculously loud they are. Honestly, if you listen to this album all the way through and your ears aren’t ringing by the end, you either need to get them checked or turn the volume up to a listenable level: I can’t even imagine going to see them live. Every recording I’ve heard by them (except for the odd folk songs on their Mizutani record – one of three band-sanctioned recordings) is incredibly loud, and sounds as though it would have been deafening if experienced live. Not only were Rallizes very noisy, their sound also had a lot of psychedelic elements to it; consequently, they’re most often classified as psych-rock. Although the long guitar solos were obviously influenced by American psych and experimental bands, I find this to be a gross oversimplification of what they do, and anyone checking them out for this reason will either be in way over their head or pleasantly surprised.
One time, in a disgustingly Garden State-esque moment, I told a former professor of mine that this band would change his life. While I can’t say that this will be true for everyone, if you like noise, psychedelia, or any sort of avant-garde rock, you definitely need to check LRD out. When I first heard them, I was already into weird Japanese stuff like Boredoms and Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., so this was a step down in terms of strangeness, but the experience made everything suddenly click for me: I finally realized the point of influence that all of these forward-thinking Japanese bands shared: Les Rallizes Dénudés started the wave of all the cool experimental and noise bands that came from the land of the rising sun, and I’m incredibly grateful for their existence.
After a series of increasingly intense and haunting albums that explored deeper and deeper realms of emotional torment, outre singer Diamanda Galas released “The Singer” a relatively restrained collection of piano and vocal covers that showed her debt to blues, jazz, standards and other roots oriented music. It was perhaps her most easily listenable album she had released up to that point and although it received some confused reviews (this was before she had established the cover routine as part of her repertoire) it can be seen as somewhat “lighter” style which may have helped lead her to the nearly accessible John Paul Jones collaboration “This Sporting Life.”
This Sporting Life…needs organizing…
Such a collaboration may seem incredibly bizarre on first glance: the First Woman of Avant Guard Shrieks collaborating with John Paul Jones, bassist of a DEDLY DUM heavy metal group with blues under pinning? A disaster.
…living on a knife’s edge…
However, it actually makes sense once one realizes that Jones is a restless musical soul who has done more for good music than Jimmy Page ever did once he left the over rated bloat monster of Zeppelin. Sorry, I can’t rate “The Firm” or the “Death Wish II” soundtrack as anything more than the tattered idiocy of a former junkie who wasted all his talent at a young age, chasing 13 year old girls while on tour.
And please say ANYTHING of his pathetic collaborations with Plant (no quarter given to pleading, poorly thought out nostalgic cash grabs) or his praising Puff Daddy ever for any reason at all.
This Sporting Life’s forever changing…
Enough Zep bashing though: it’s boring and designed to shock. I do have a lot of respect for certain aspects of Zeppelin but Jones has long been my favorite member as he seemed more prone to…change and experiment. His solo album “Zooma” sounds a lot like prime Primus while he produced such great works as “Independent Worm Saloon” by the Butthole Sufers.
Plus he’s a king of bass I always forget about because I never, ever listen to Zed Leppelin.
Are you bored? Are you jaded?
Easy questions with obvious answers: what does this album sound like? Well, the first track “Skotoseme” sets the mood immediately: Diamanda chants underneath a light drone and then Jones comes in playing his dunderheaded metal bass line while Pete Thomas of the Attractions bashes out “Better than Bonham” drums. Galas shrieks over top, babbles, raves and screams in her best tradition.
It sounds a little goofy sometimes but I feel that’s the effect: Galas showcasing her wonderful sense of humor…wonderful in the sense that it’s darker than the darkest gallows humor. You know, the kind of jokes that make staring at the dead body of your once beloved swinging from a gallows pole while you’re being buried alive seem light hearted in comparison.
As light hearted as the album cover which has Galas splayed across the front of a car driven by Jones with a crazed expression on her face and a knife in her hand as if she was moments away from either murdering Jones, holding him up for cash or demanding crazy, crazy sex.
Is it hot? You bet but a special kind of hot that perhaps reflects more about me than the album cover.
Has all enthusiasm faded?…
Not yet but that’s because I like this album. Not a LOT a lot as it’s not really too emotionally moving like Galas’ best work but it’s simply a gas. That’s right, a gas. Even in song’s like “This Sporting Life” which sounds like a gang of mad woman plotting somebodies rap and murder (if contemporary interviews are to be believed, it’s Snoop Dogg) of some dude.
Then “Baby’s Insane” comes on and you know Galas is having a laugh: it’s much too over the top to be serious. In fact, when performing this song, she’d always tell a story about how some critic slammed her for the song at which point she climaxes the story with “he’s trying to ruin my fun.”
Are you one of those people?
And then “Hex” comes on and you really feel like THIS is the moment the whole album’s been building up to (appropriate as it’s the last song) as it really combines the furious rock and roll drive of Jones and Thomas into an enchanting groove while Galas puts on her best performance yet: chanting, shrieking, improvising and building, building, building to a climax that puts much of the rest of the album to shame.
This is the bad Samaritan…
One should take a minute to appreciate the diversity of this album: Galas sometimes hitches a ride on a metal monster bass riff groove and sometimes babbles and babbles on top of each other in songs like “Do You Take This Man” that feel like streamlined version of past hits. Sometimes she seems to nearly croon only to remind listeners of the fact that she is perhaps the finest and most daring vocalist of her generation.
Make sure there’s a crowd below…give a little when you go…
One last thought: this is as close to a pop album as Galas ever produced. Of course, it’s as pop as water but it features a focus on simpler song structures, actual melodies and diversity in a way she never really approached throughout her career.
This makes it a good album with which to introduce her to your friends but it lacks the emotional punch of her best work. It’s fun and has great musical ideas but never stuns or surprises you.
Perhaps the best way to approach the album is the way Galas and Jones obviously are on the back cover: driving a convertible care free through the streets of a big city, roof down, laughing your ass off and blasting the strange noises to annoy the city folk.
Songs to YouTube
“Skotoseme” will tell you all you need to know but find the live version on David Letterman or Jay Leno or whatever show it’s on. It’s surreal seeing her there.
Tomorrow we’ll look at something as equally avant-guard and accessible. Stay tuned!
The early 80’s was a time of relative musical chaos. The 60’s had all coalesced into the hippie movement and The Beatles which fell gradually apart to be replaced by bands taking the “complex” sound of the times and running with it. This produced the incredible sounds of “progressive” rock which inevitably turned to crap.
Then, there were the “heavy” bands such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple who took the “heavy blues” vibe and ran it head first into the ground of wild (stupid) mysticism (in the case of the former) and lazy, riff nicking (in the case of the other).
Then punk came around and created the myth that it destroyed “bad” music forever by destroying the former “dinosaurs” and bringing rock back to the masses.
That lasted about a day: if punk was the “huge thing” in the late 70’s, how come crap rock bands like Foreigner and REO Speedwagon still existed?
I’m not knocking punk (I like a lot of it) but just the idea that it destroyed the careers of the dinosaurs. Yes, a few bands disappeared but most just warped into other, more mainstream styles of music.
The best influence of punk is that it did inspire amateur musicians to pick up their instruments and try out new styles, sounds and ideas that were neither “punk” or “mainstream” and which would come to influence a wide variety of musical stylistics in the decades to come.
This is where the “Young Marble Giants” come into the picture.
The Young Marble Giants was a three-piece with guitar playing brother Stuart Moxham writing the tunes, Phillip Moxham playing the melodic and nimble bass lines and Alison Stratton singing the “vibrato free” vocals. A drum machine (sometimes treated) keeps up the rhythm while an occasional organ pops up, played by Stuart.
What the band did reads very easily on paper: they created an airy, minimalistic “pop” style that influenced dozens of future indie bands looking to avoid the strum and drang of rock and roll and to develop a more subtle attack.
Hearing the album is a whole different experience. In my opinion, there are two possible reactions to this album: complete excitement or complete boredom.
The boredom is easy to explain: nothing happens. The songs all sound the same. The singer sucks. What’s the big deal? Next record, please.
The excitement that arises in the right person (such as yours truly) comes from an appreciation of how little the band is doing to create the atmosphere and style they are creating. Stuart is a capable rhythm guitarist and an excellent songwriter who’s signature guitar style comes from palm muting the guitar during most of the album.
Yes, palm muting, that thing you hear metal guitarists do during “breakdowns” in songs. Except Stuart plays his guitar mostly clean with just a touch of distortion for the “harder” parts i.e. those parts where he plays simple but memorable non-muted riffs.
The drum machine plays along with Stuart’s model: the beats are muted and warped through a slight phase effect. The drum beat is never more complex than a basic 4/4 but the phased beat creates an absolutely unique pulse that has never been repeated.
Phillips is perhaps the most important member of the band instrumentally as he has the most freedom to play. Stuart has surrendered himself to the rhythm: as Gabriel said, it has his soul. Phillip plays to the beat, around the beat, adds simple runs, plays melodies and does everything he can to color in the spaces between the beats.
Even then he picks his notes carefully (he’s not exactly doing Chris Squire stuff) and chooses careful, simple parts and pops them in from time to time, all adding to the slight, airy beat that is the sound of this band by adding a slightly more muscular attack.
And then there is Stratton. Her simple, child-like voice (forced on Stuart, who had wanted to be the band’s singer) floats above the simple rhythm bed singing simple, but catchy, memorable and endearing melodies as if commenting on the band playing beneath her.
Her voice is simply something: not much there technically but her vibrato free, no nonsense approach practically defined female indie singing for…well, ever it appears.
All of this praise would be to nothing if the band simply played atmospheric airy nothingness (a million bands do that) but this band does nothing of the sort. Stuart writes the kind of snappy, simple pop songs that defined the early punk era but plays them in the gentlest way possible.
“Looking for Mr. Right” is a perfect start for the album: the distant fade in of the atmospheric, faded drum beats slowly builds into a trademark Stuart palm mute rhythm. Phillip starts playing simple, stabbing bass lines that raise the tension. Stratton then comes in bemoaning her ability to find “Mr. Right.”
Bemoaning isn’t the right word: simply stating. She’s simply stating how difficult it is to find the right guy to a Stuart melody that is hard to deny.
A serious complaint that can be lodged at this album (that I can’t deny) is that it all sounds the same. This is very true: the band does throw in an organ from time to time, but generally when they do that the organ becomes the predominant instrument. With arrangements this simple, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve heard it all before.
However, and I insist this is the case, the band is obviously doing everything they can to diversify the songs within their formula. “Searching for Mr. Right” may serve as the prototype but “Include Me Out” breaks the mold by featuring some slight distortion, a straight forward guitar riff and the type of fluid bass lines that came out of the punk world.
Seriously, throw in a real drummer, a bit more distortion and Joey Ramone and you got a punk tune.
“Credit in The Straight World” is a similar “punk like” song that is so good, Hole of all people, did a cover on “Live Through This” that follows this arrangement to the letter except it adds a real drummer and another guitar to make it the hard core punk song it never quite becomes (for good or bad) in the hands of the Young Marble Giants.
And then the band slows things down, brings out the organ and croons about a “Wurlitzer Jukebox.” This song is a great example of how the band changes their style: by slowing down, focusing on the organ and developing a solid “ballad” vocal melody they create a song that stands out from the album.
Honestly, each song qualifies as either “good” to “great” but differentiating all of them would require focusing on the type of tiny details that only pop out after multiple listens.
Final verdict? Buy the shit out of this, especially the “Special Edition” as it contains two more discs: the first being “Colossal Youth” the second a disc of singles and EP’s the band recorded that are now impossible to find and a series of Peel Sessions. The band was right on the cusp of making it big and were the “next big thing” before the tension within the group finally broke them up for good.
Songs to YouTube:
Any I mentioned in the review plus a live performance of “N.I.T.A.” It gives you a solid feel for their live presence (which wasn’t much to be fair) and giving you a solid look as to what these strange, enigmatic people could possibly look like in the real world.
They look like a few British gits and a daffy broad (in the good sense of the word). Awesome.
After 1981, “Amon Duul II” finally broke up and stayed that way for nearly two decades. Different band members went on to a variety of projects, some more successful than others. Original founding guitarist, John Weinzierl eventually moved to England and met up with a group of like-minded musicians. First and perhaps foremost was British bassist Dave Anderson. Anderson had briefly played with “Amon Duul II” but also made a name with “Hawkwind.”
The band then scooped up drummer Guy Evans from Van Der Graaf Generator, who were also broken up at the time. For a vocalist, they scooped up a woman named Julie Waring. The band started to rehearse and Weinzierl felt that the music was sufficiently “Amon Duul”ish. He named the band “Amon Duul” and nobody seemed to care. Later on, the band was called “Amon Duul UK” or even “Amon Duul III” by fans.
And when I say nobody cared, I mean it: this line-up made nowhere near the splash brought on by “Amon Duul II” or even the original “Amon Duul.” This may be due to changing times: it was the 80’s, and the type of heavily improvised music the band was practicing here wasn’t exactly in favor.
Another major problem has to do with the frankly half assed nature of many of the group’s recordings. The original line-up recorded only two albums, one heavily improvised the other more song based (both of which were derided by Weinzierl as little more than rehearsal tapes). Eventually, “Hawkwind” guru, lyricist and nut job vocalist Bob Calvert joined and recorded two albums with the band, one of which was heavily improvised, the other of which was more song based (both of which were derided by Weinzierl as little more than rehearsal tapes).
Note the repetition there? It should be telling that Weinzierl, one of the main men behind “Bee As Such” was so harsh on these albums. Frankly, only two of them are really all that worthy. The other two are little more than fairly uneventful improvisations, poorly written and arranged pop songs and Bob Calvert wailings that are out of tune, out of time and not all that provocative.
So, is this version worse than “Amon Duul”? In some ways they’re better: the music is more listenable and more professional. The albums will get higher grades than those Diaster-pieces. However, in some ways they are more disappointing as there was some serious talent here. Weinzierl is, songwriting talent aside, a hell of a guitarist. Dave Anderson was a monster on bass with “Hawkwind” while Guy Evans was always an underrated drummer. Warring and Calvert both have unique voices which should have set the band apart.
And yet, the band never really takes off the ground or generates true excitement. Their two “good” albums won’t get any more than eight out of ten stars. Their worse albums will get no more than five or six. They are neither as trance enduing as early “Amon Duul” or as pitiful as that band at their worst.
Essentially, they were a mediocre band made out of excellent musicians that didn’t have the focus or professionalism to sit down, work through their better ideas, craft better arrangements and elaborate on their (at times nursery rhyme level) melodies. Like “Amon Duul” these guys are really only of interest to historians or “Amon Duul II” completists. Tread lightly folks. I’m covering all the albums in one article as there isn’t a whole lot to say about them: I surely can’t go off into a three page rant about a single album.
Hawk Meets Penguin 1982
1) One Moment’s Anger Is Two Pints Of Blood; 2) Meditative Music From The Third O Before The Producers Part 1; 3) Meditative Music From The Third O Before The Producers Part 2
7 out of 8 stars
The debut album by “Amon Duul UK” came out only a year after the original band shat out “Vortex.” Unlike that album, it is somewhat provocative and a bit more interesting than the rather dull “vortex” of sound that “Amon Duul II” attempted to make into art.
You may be wondering (and even if you’re not pretend you are so this sentence has meaning) what the band thinks of as “art” music? Well, the original “Amon Duul II” had really long songs that often took up complete sides of an album. Got that here: there are only two songs, one of which is broken up into two pieces.
Catchy riffs and melodies are also a bit too passe for true art. So, the band naturally forgoes traditional songwriting for a more atmospheric, soundscape approach. In fact, the band usually seems to improvising or jamming in the classic “Amon Duul II” style. So, there’s another check mark on the “art” list.
Also, there should be some wild woman singer wailing insanely over the top of it. That’s pretty much as art as it gets so it makes sense the band had Warring going all Renate on our asses. Warring is nowhere near as operatic as Renate and is in fact a bit more high pitched. But the aural effect is the same: pure art.
Oh and the album should be called “Hawk Meets Penguin.” Art with a capital “A.”
Joking aside, the band is obviously attempting to go in a more “prog rock/kraut rock” direction. Each side is a sprawling suite of half riffs, improvised bass runs, wild drum rolls, screams, simple synthesizer lines (perhaps Weinzierl? There is no full time keyboardist) with a complete abandonment of structure.
Perhaps not completely. “One Moment’s Anger is Two Pints of Blood” starts out fairly simple but gradually builds up into a stately, slow paced, sci-fi prog rock near-masterpiece. After only (ONLY!) six minutes, the band begins to really work their way into an impressive song. It all slowly builds to a gentle climax in an impressive manner. No masterpiece, perhaps but a nice piece of work.
The second song then is just a “piece of work.” This one is completely improvisation based and its much more difficult to take. It’s also 23 minutes long. It simply lacks direction for most of the piece until it starts to lightly groove several minutes before the song ends. It’s not evocative, like classic “Amon Duul II” albums nor is it unprofessional. It’s simply anachronistic and not entirely successful.
It’s a shame because if the second half was as strong as the first, this could have been an eight. If a little bit more care and work had been done into both pieces (increasing their depth of the pieces and sonic presence) it could have been a late period masterpiece. As it is, it’s a highly flawed, yet still worthy work that is as generic as possible but still fun for the hardcore “Amon Duul II” fan.
Meetings with Menmachines, Unremarkable Heroes of the Past 1985
1) Pioneer; 2) The Old One; 3) Marcus Lead; 4) The Song; 5) Things Aren’t Always What They Seem; 6) Burundi Drummer’s Nightmare
Eight out of Ten
After going a bit nutty with “Hawk Versus Penguin” “Amon Duul UK” took a nearly four year break before releasing their next album. Or before the record company released rehearsal tapes without the band’s permission. It’s really hard to tell what was going on with this band: their history is weirdly shrouded and conflicted.
Anyways, any fans the band may have picked up with the formally avant guardisms of “Hawk Versus Penguin” must have been incredibly disappointed when they picked up this formally pretentiously named follow up album four years later. However, this is an example of an album title that simply doesn’t match its contents (such as ‘Grand Funk’s’ “Good Singing, Good Playing, Good Laying” or whatever the hell it was called).
Because this album is actually, for all intents and purposes, a pop album. Yes, it’s a highly arty pop album made by some of Britain and Germany’s wildest musicians. But the approach, the melodies, the arrangements and the song lengths are all so thoroughly pop that hardcore fans must have collectively puked into their prog rock hats in protest.
However, this album ended up being the best this line-up ever did. There are a few reasons I believe that this is the case. One: nobody in the band was a true “long form genius.” Yes, the band did well with parts of “Hawk Versus Penguin” but it’s obvious they struggled in the format. By pulling back and focusing on simpler melodies and song structures they could focus their talents a bit more successfully.
There’s also the fact that the band is simply not selling out here. The sound is never a “1985” sound. Yes, there are a lot of keyboards and synthesizers (and each song starts with a completely unrelated keyboard introduction which makes this something of a “keyboard introduction” concept album) but the sound is driven by sharply defined guitar lines, crisp drumming, busy bass and wild vocalizations.
If Weinzierl is to be believed, these songs weren’t done when they were released. I’m not sure what he would have added to perfectly solid pop songs like “Pioneer” or to folk ballads such as “Marcus Leid.” Sure, the melodies are simple and the chords few but each of these songs is instantly catchy and almost memorable.
In fact, the album is almost shockingly good in its approach. The band never really trips up over themselves to catch up with the times or to sound cool. Instead, they focus on creating well crafted, diverse art pop tunes that stick in the head and which are different than any songs you’ve heard your life. The low ambition level of this album means it cannot get more than eight stars. But this is a pretty high eight stars. If you get nothing else by this band, scoop up this album. It’s so much better than 99% of “Amon Duul II’s” late 70’s sell out albums that it beggars believe.
Fool Moon 1989
1) Who Who; 2) The Tribe; 3) Tik Tok; 4) Hauptmotor; 5) Hymn For The Hardcore
4 out of 10
And the band completely loses all momentum gained by past albums by a) waiting another four years to follow up their last album and b) going back to a more “experimental” approach. Again, the story on these last two albums is entirely unclear and muddled: Weinzierl claims they were rush released after the death of Calvert as a sort of tribute. He has complained they weren’t finished but there was nothing the band could do after Bob died. Perhaps that would explain their low quality and why they were released back to back.
But I can’t buy the whole “unfinished” thing. Not entirely. I’m not really sure what more they could have gained from working on these songs any more. The type of half assed experimental bullshit the band tries to pull here is so far out of date with the times and so antiquated, unsuccessful and wasteful that it’s hard not to actually feel a bit angry towards them while listening to the album.
I mean why, WHY would the band suddenly abandon the successful approach of their previous album? Yes, I get the whole “gotta keep changing” thing that drove “Amon Duul II” but why change in this way? Because of Calvert? I find that hard to believe: Calvert actually flourished well in the mid period space-pop setting of “Hawkwind.”
Perhaps it was pure laziness. The effort that went into this album was obviously minimal: it sounds like the band could have bashed this out in an afternoon. The band once again goes for a “jam” based approach but they don’t even approach the density of sound and effectiveness of “Hawk Versus Penguin” let alone “Tanz Der Lemming.” They do integrate more synthesizers and industrial sounding noises but this is no great prize.
I mean, something like nearly 15 minutes of the album are wasted on go-nowhere ideas that took no time to conceive. The clock sounds that start “Tik Tok” are boring, offensively over long and nowhere near as effective as the sounds from “Dark Side of the Moon.” “Hauptmotor” starts with nearly seven minutes of “nature” sounds that set no mood but annoyance and which seem to rip off Wendy Carlos. “Who Who” starts with an annoying, pseudo industrial sounding drum beat that just…never…stops…
And then when the songs do start, the band simply spins its tires. The basic formula is “Calvert-blathers-crap-over-top-over-one-riff.” Sure, the band tries tricks with sound effects and volume levels but these effects are incredibly minimal and pointless. Worst of all, the band ends the album with an India mocking “sitar showcase” which is so painful to listen to and so utterly pointless that it almost seems racist.
Sure, “The Tribe” has a solid hard rock drive to it that makes it stand out a bit while “Tik Tok” has a justifiably famous riff. But there is simply nothing here. The band was completely out of ideas and I can’t even blame Calvert here. After all, he didn’t force the band to “compose” such nonsense.
Die Losung 1989
1) Big Wheel; 2) Urban Indian; 3) Adrenalin Rush; 4) Visions Of Fire; 5) Drawn To The Flame Pt. 1; 6) They Call It Home; 7) Die Lösung; 8) Drawn To The Flame Pt. 2.
4 out of 10
“Die Losung” was released the same year as “Fool Moon” and is basically that albums “Meetings with Menmachines.” The band has once again streamlined its sound into a more pop and rock based format. However, unlike that album, they completely fail to do anything of worth and completely embarrasses themselves again, thankfully for the last time.
In fact, I’d say this album is an even bigger attempt to sell out than previous albums. The tones of each instrument are as commercial as they’ve ever been. The melodies and arrangements are even simpler and the subject matter (especially on the turgid “Urban Indian”) are so grotesque that fans of “Motley Crue” may have due them.
This is not to say that the band sounds like hair metal. They don’t. This is also not to say that the band sounds like synth pop. They sure don’t. Instead, they sound like an out of date, clueless, pointless band that is trying to fit in to the times to sell records but without “selling out.” They stick to their tried and true “arty” methods which are a) completely inappropriate and b) completely unsuccessful. Think of this album as the band’s “Almost Alive” but without the funk influences.
I mean, it’s really hard to figure out the purpose and goals of these albums, as they were recorded and released under such murky circumstances. But whatever the purpose and goals (and whether they are finished or not) they were commercially released as finished albums and must be reviewed as such.
Basically, the band goes for a straightforward rock sound that lacks the charm, wit and intelligence of “Menmachines.” The guitar tones are highly processed in a late 80’s way that removes the charm and “sex” out of the guitar. The synthesizers are so late 80’s you’ll want to cry. Calvert is completely wasted, ranting and raving on top of utterly ugly backing tracks in an utterly ugly and out of tune way.
Luckily, Julie Warring makes a reappearance on the last two tracks. And sure, her pleasant voice helps lift these two tracks above the mark. But barely, just barely and hardly enough to really save the album from utter ruin.
Weinzierl was smart enough to stop the band at this point. What had started as formally exciting and potentially worthwhile idea had de-evolved into an ugly mess of contrasting ideas and poorly thought out conception. Even “Bee As Such” is worthier than these last two albums.
And this is where the story of “Amon Duul” ends for me. Of course, I already covered the band’s late period albums with and without Weinzierl. But I shall no more have to write about this band and for that I’m grateful. It’s time to move on to something a bit easier to manage. A band that is a bit more streamlined, yet worthy. Perhaps a high quality pop-rock band that is highly beloved but sorely misunderstood by many people. Most importantly, a band that doesn’t have so many damn albums.
Stay tuned for my ABBA reviews!
1) Mambo La Libertad; 2) Du Kommst Ins Heim; 3) Still Standing; 4) Psychedelic Suite.
5 out of 10
Just when you thought it was safe to ignore “Amon Duul II”; after a further 14 years had passed, the band finally re-emerges to make a new musical statement. The band is back to four of the most important members (Renate, Karrer, Meid and even Weinzierl this time) and they are ready to prove they still have it. The band released a press release that stated they were ready to go “back to the roots – not in the past, but essentially – seeking the news sounds…of the new millennium.” So, does this band of nearly 60 year olds touch on the new sound of the millennium?
What do you think? Look at the rating: the band utterly fails in their goal. They fall flat on their face, completely embarrassing themselves after the success of “Nada Moonshine #.” It’s sad that this must be considered their swansong instead of that superior album.
A brief bit of background on the album: after releasing “Nada Moonshine #” many band members almost immediately disowned it. Although they played many of the tracks live (as illustrated on “Live at Tokyo” an album I’ve never heard) they simply didn’t believe in the material for some reason. So, after the two sound collage albums in 96 they went their separate ways.
However, late in the 2000’s the band got bit by the nostalgia bug. They started playing together again and even got John Wienzierl to come back. They quickly recorded this album and self released it online. There are no physical copies of this album: it’s a completely mp3 based album. There isn’t even any official album art.
And then the band penned their pretentious press release. It’s hard to get over this release as it’s impossible to reconcile the difference between the album and the difference between what the band publicly stated they were trying to achieve.
The part I quoted above is simply the tip of the iceberg. “This sound painting,” the release continues, “is one more of our unique works, containing the spirit of our time.” What time? Do they mean the late 2000’s? Or do they mean “their” time i.e. the early-to-mid-70’s? Because the latter makes more sense.
This album has nothing to do with the 2000’s. It’s simply an extension of the early, jam based methodology of their earliest albums. For many fans this will be a cause for rejoicing. “Finally!” they say, clutching their tattered, tear covered remains of ‘Tanz Der Lemming,’ “the band is back to jamming and improvising in a wild and exciting way! They quit their 40 year sell out streak and are back to what they do best!”
And yes, the band was definitely best at pure jamming. As enjoyable and as essential as those mid-70’s song-based albums are they aren’t as unique or innovative or effective as their pure jam based albums. Surely, the band must touch on some of the magic they had in the old days, even if on accident.
Honestly, I can say quite sadly, the band doesn’t touch even a quarter of the magic they had in the old days. They don’t even have a tenth of it. Because this isn’t really the same band. Yes, the basic quartet is in place, but Falk Rogner is out of the picture. In fact, there isn’t even a real keyboard player in the band at this point: only Wienzierl is credited with playing a little synthesizer
As much as I respect Wienzierl, Carrer and Meid as instrumentalists (and I really do) they simply don’t really cook up much fire on this album. The lack of keyboards creates a thinner sound that the guitarists simply don’t fill. While earlier albums often sounded like a wild beast rampaging throughout the land, tearing down walls and destroying your sanity, this album simply sounds like a band jamming.
Put it another way: these jams do not create moods. Past jams all had a moody texture or purpose to them that helped elevate them above the average “let’s jam, dude” methodology that many bands had at the time. Yes, Wienzierl, Carrer and Meid are ultra professional in their jamming. But they aren’t virtuosos. You can’t simply let the sonic waves of demonic jam power wash over you like you can with “Can.”
“Amon Duul II” never had the raw chops to carry the listener over based on pure jamming in their prime. What chance do they have 40 years later? None basically. These tracks have the value of “bonus tracks” that you might seen tagged onto the end of a remastered, rereleased CD. They sound like warm ups or rehearsals most of the time.
I wouldn’t be so offended by the album if the band wasn’t so pretentious about it: they didn’t act like they were breaking ground with the much-wilder-and-more-in-tune-with-the-times “Kobe Reconstructions/Flashback” albums.
Are they really that deluded that they think they’re breaking new ground? If so, that’s sad. And it actually costs the album a point in the rating. Does that seem unfair? Hardly: I call this the “Elder” syndrome.
This syndrome, named after Kiss’ “Music from the Elder” album comes when a band pretentiously tries to bite off more than they can chew. They over-estimate their abilities and strengths as a band and fall completely flat on their face trying to be “deep” “original” and “innovative.”
As background music, it works just fine. Wash your dishes to it and you may even give it an extra star or two. At their best, this band was much more than background listening. But the band is getting old and there is no way they are at their best. Making passable background music for fans is not a bad past time for an elder band.
But the band didn’t present it as background music: they presented it as new, groundbreaking music. They presented it as something that could fully compete with their past accomplishments. They want to present themselves as if they are at their best. And argue about this all you want, but I believe that intention and presentation are vital parts to consider about an album.
For example, after ten years of disappointing, “serious minded” albums by Bob Dylan that completely failed in their task, fans and critics reacted positively to the slight, non-serious intended pair of folk cover albums he pressed in the late 80’s. It was the kind of album Dylan could toss of in his sleep but fans and critics loved them.
This is because they knew that Bob wasn’t making a serious statement: he was just having some fun after a long string of failures. He wasn’t at his best, knew it and did a goof off. He never presented those albums as if they were competitive with his best work. And they were great
“Amon Duul II” was obviously just having fun when they recorded this album. But they try to present it as a serious statement. One of the biggest mistakes of their career and one which taints the end of their career slightly. Speaking of “tainting careers” my “Amon Duul UK” reviews are next.
1) Castaneda Da Dream; 2) Nada Moonshine Union; 3) Speed Inside My Shoes; 4) Sirens In Germanistan; 5) Lilac Lillies; 6) Kiss Ma Eee; 7) Carpetride In Velvet Night; 8) Black Pearl Of Wisdom; 9) Ça Va; 10) Guadalquivir.
8 out of 10
All great bands (except for ABBA and the Beatles (and well, countless others (this sentence has been rendered moot by these parentheticals but I’m going to finish it anyways (so there)))) eventually reunite: and so it was, 14 years after their last, rather dull attempt at an album, the “original” line-up of “Amon Duul II” (with no Weinzierl who was off doing who knows what at this time) gets together to show the world they still have it nearly 30 years after their debut and 20 years after their last great album.
Apologies for the lengthy sentence: I was briefly possessed by the spirit of William Faulkner and William Burroughs at the same time. Faulkner was wasted and feebly rejecting the advances of a stoned out of his gourd Burroughs. Faulkner didn’t give in, thankfully, or I’d have an odd literary creature growing in my head: a combination of Faulkner and Burroughs that I could only call: William Burroughs. Or wait no, I’m sorry: William Faulkner.
Whoa whoa whoa, time out. Okay, no more of that. I’m sorry for the brief moments of insanity there but it’s hard not to get a bit goofed out when listening to an album like this: any kind of reunion album creates a feeling of foreboding in my mind. Does the band still have it? Can they create an album that stays true to their past but pushes the boundaries forward and which stays current and imaginative?
Most people can’t: “Amon Duul II” basically do. No, the album isn’t perfect but it is a shockingly good return to form from a band that basically nobody cared about anymore. Yes, this album came and went without leaving even a small ripple in the listening world: the only person I’ve ever seen discuss this album is George Starostin. You can’t even read a review at Allmusic but that doesn’t stop them from rating it. Idiots.
So, what does the band achieve on this album? Its simple on paper but complex in execution: the band combines their classic style with a more synthesized, highly studio based production style. And when I say their “old styles” I mean the “everything happening at once” approach of “Yeti” with the more streamlined songwriting styles of their mid-70’s albums.
Basically, a song will start out with a simple idea. Sometimes guitar based but more often synthesizer or keyboard based. The band will then begin layering sounds on top of it, including more synthesizers, guitars, Renate-wailings and vivid soundscapes. Drum machines may jump in and techno rhythms may appear. Basically, it often feels like the band is jumping on that mid-90’s techno band wagon.
However, the band doesn’t let this new sound define who they are or become too repetitive. Songs usually switch sounds quickly (and these are long songs for the most part) building up to new ideas, including operatic arias, faster techno drum beats, wild guitar passages, rhythmic attacks and wild echoing sound effect panoramas.
If the album sounds wild it is: it can be overwhelming to listen to at times. The band doesn’t really let up for a second on the album and is seemingly having as much fun in the studio as they have ever had, if not more. As a result, there isn’t much breathing room on the album: every spare second is stuffed with sound effects, guitars, synthesizers, thick bass lines, wild vocalizing, sampled loops, odd string sections and more.
And this is one reason why the album gets an eight. As impressive of an accomplishment as the album is, technically, it becomes very wearing to listen to for long periods of time. And although there are only 10 songs, this album stretches out to nearly an hour long, if not longer (forgive me if I don’t know the exact running time off the top of my head).
Another reason the album doesn’t get top marks is that the songs start to all sound the same. Yes, there are major differences in the songs but I couldn’t really tell you what they are right now. The arrangements and approaches don’t change drastically between songs, even though the styles and genres tackled often do change (the eternal curse of “Amon Duul II”). This contributes to the feeling of boredom that rears its ugly head by the close of the album.
Lastly, the band isn’t really pushing boundaries that haven’t been pushed before. They are now simply followers instead of leaders. Yes, one cannot hold that against the band as they were getting pretty old by this point in their career. But it hurts parts of the album, especially the ending techno beats of “Lilac Lillies” which really detract from the quality of the song. They are so generic that its sad to see this rampaging, all encompassing beats of a band stoop to that level.
With all those complaints voiced, I can still give this album an easy 8 out of 10 for the balls and talent it took to put it together. While it may not be innovative, it does sound different from all those mid-90’s techno-influenced albums because it is written and recorded by a band of former mad-men-and-women who were literally anarchists at one point in their career. And this wild, careening album reflects that anarchistic spirit perfectly.
5 out of 10 each
Although this was the only album of new material released by the band in the 90’s, they did release two albums of “sound collage” material in 1996. These albums, “Kobe Reconstructions” and “Flashback” were limited release albums released for a singular purpose: “Kobe Reconstructions” was released to raise funds for Kobe, Japan after a hurricane struck while “Flashback” was a gift to members of the “Amon Duul II” fan club.
I’m reviewing both of these albums simultaneously because they sound identical. The band basically took songs from their past albums and used a sampler to reconstruct them into wild sound collages. And instead of separating the albums into individual tracks, they made them all one track.
And the albums basically suck as listening experiences. I love sound collages as much if not more than the average man (my first three albums were nothing but sound collages) but the band doesn’t show a lot of imagination in this style. A great sound collage would feature jarring, yet musical, contrasts and interesting combinations of material.
Instead, these albums often feature a basic guitar line (sometimes from “Amon Duul I”!!!!) repeated over and over for what seems like an eternity. And then they layer a few basic parts over top and let these repeat endlessly. And the albums do feel endless, as they drone on and on for what seems like an eternity.
I can’t really be too hard on the albums though: both were released for nice, charitable purposes and were designed to appeal to hardcore “Amon Duul II” fans (something I am not). Plus, it’s cool to see the band try something new and stretch out their creativity in new directions. Sure, they fail but its better to fail at something new than to fail at something old. Five stars in admiration and under the condition I never have to listen to these albums again.
1) Vortex; 2) Holy West; 3) Die 7 Fetten Jahre; 4) Wings Of The Wind; 5) Mona; 6) We Are Machine; 7) Das Gestern Ist Das Heute Von Morgen; 8) Vibes In The Air.
6 out of 10
A relative rebound. Kind of. Three years after the shattered, tattered remains of the once mighty “Amon Duul II” were promptly buried, never to be unearthed, the original band rose again, one year to each day, resurrected to conquer the world again and to prove that Love really does conquer all.
Or not. Look, that last paragraph may have been needlessly poetic but I want the reader to understand how neat this album could and should have been. Most of the original band members make appearances, including Renate, original organist Falk Rogner (who I’ve always neglected to mention, shame considering his keyboard work helped create a lot of great atmosphere) with John Weinzierl playing a little guitar and Lothar Meid back on a “little” bit of bass.
So with the original band (kind of, at points) back together, it was time to cut the shit. All attempts to streamline and “sell out” have been removed from the band’s vocabulary. No more bland shit like “Only Human” or “Almost Alive” to ruin the band’s reputation. Nope, the band was ready to get back to a denser sound with a more atmospheric feel. Darkness should over take the listener, much like they are being sucked up by the slightly-ridiculous-yet-still-ominious image on the front cover.
But the band more or less blows it: sure, it’s an improvement over the last two records, but it’s basically of the same quality as “Pyragony X.” It is noble that the band would try to come back and regain some of their lost ground. But it’s really their own fault that the album really doesn’t work.
One problem is that most of the major band members really only make guest appearances. Weinzierl and Meid really only guest briefly throughout the album. Jorg Evers plays guitar and he simply doesn’t have the same skill or inventiveness of Weinzierl. Meid does almost no songwriting, simply sticking to bass. This is a major problem, as it was his clever song-writing ideas that kept the band afloat for the three years after they abandoned complete jamming.
Another major problem is the “instrumentation situation.” The album is an official “80’s Album” as it features drum machines, synthesizers and other machines of that ilk. However, the inclusion of these instruments wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in the early 80’s. Remember, it was the era of “Peter Gabriel III” and other creepy, crawlie creative synth albums. Even Genesis’s “Abacab,” while ostensibly pop, had great tones and many creative ideas.
Put it this way: the album sounds more like “Peter Gabriel III” and less like “No Jacket Required.” The band is definitely working their asses off to create an oppressive atmosphere that can crush the listener. They really want to make a heavy return to creative darkness. As a result, the synthesizers croak out unpleasant tones that are not generic. The drum machine stutter and strut, much like Gabriel’s classic programming.
But the album still gets a pretty low rating. Honestly, it’s no better than and sometimes worse than “Pyragony X.” It’s close to being better because the general sound is a bit more interesting than the completely pedestrian and nearly generic sound of “Pyragony X.” It’s closer to being worse because the band fails at their goals here worse than on that unfortunate album.
Basically, the band is trying to be scary and oppressive but they really don’t succeed at achieving that goal. Yes, the songs are dense, heavily arranged and gloomy. But instead of being impressive, they simply stand there and brood. For all the band’s hard work, they are simply doing another make-up job on a rotting corpse of a sow.
It may be worse than “Pyragony X” because at least that album had actual songs. Sure, they were pretty unmemorable and unengaging but they had structure, melodies and diverse arrangements. Here, everything mulls together into a lump with no real melodic strength. Honestly, it feels like the band is trying to make the arrangements into songs themselves. This is an approach which never truly works: it may fool the band’s desperate fans into thinking “they’re back!” but it leaves an album that a) won’t appeal to casual fans and b) won’t even hold up for fans, unless they’re completely self deceiving.
I haven’t even described the tracks yet have I? Well, “Holy West” certainly sounds impressive at first with its wave of synthesizer atmosphere. However, the melody of the song is painfully simple. It also hits no real emotion or meaning. It’s simply there. And the band never develops the melody or the atmosphere they have created. It simply broods there, glowering at you immovably,
Fans of “Kraftwerk” may be excited (or pissed) to see a song called “We Are Machine.” Don’t worry: “Kraftwerk “has nothing to worry about. Why the band tried this approach is beyond me. They were never good at repetitive music ideas. Whereas “Kraftwerk” succeeds by making their repetitive ideas catchy and by adding slight variations, “Amon Duul II” simply pounds a simple idea, throws in simplistic “machine” lyrics and calls it a day.
Going into detail here isn’t exactly necessary. So, why does this album get such a (relatively) high rating when compared to the previous two albums? In spite of the fact that it fails, it shows a band that is trying to do something creative and new. They’re obviously working hard to be new and exciting. They are trying to integrate New Wave ideas and are at least integrating them semi-intelligently.
Simply put: the band is trying to be good. They’re failing, but at least they’re trying. The last two albums featured a band trying but they were trying to sell albums without having the ability to write music that a mainstream audience would want to buy.
Plus, if you’ve never heard much of this style of music, it might be effective. Or if you buy into the mood and atmosphere the band is trying to set (I don’t) it could probably be much more effective. No more than a six worth of effectiveness but much better than the 5 I wanted to give the album.
The band must have seen the writing on the wall though. They split again, this time to stay away for 14 years. However, they’d come back with a strong album, their best in 20 year and which shows a band more successfully navigating unknown waters. Stay tuned.