Music Reviews

The Lyres – “Lucky 7″ 7×7” box set

lucky-7The Lyres were one of my very first intros to “garage rock”, vis-a-vis their college radio hit “Help You Ann” around 1983. I heard them before I’d heard The Sonics, for what it’s worth. Yet I’m not being a deliberately-doubting Thomas when I say that this band always seemed to overindex with Europeans and Bostonians, leaving the rest of us to try and figure out why so many of their “soulful” garage/R&B songs were so goddamn tepid. This new Spanish box set of 45s attempts to help explain, and thankfully comes with a CD of all of the material for easier access to the conundrum.

Jeff Connolly of The Lyres (and howling late 70s rump-rockers DMZ before that) – the famed “Monoman” of yore – has always struck me as one those nutball characters with a definite early peak and a long, loooong stretched-out valley. (Some supporting character witness data can be found here).

I remember seeing him in a Newbury Street record store in Boston around 2000, and it was clear that he was aimlessly yammering to the clerks behind the counter while they barely half-listened, while also being clear that this was most assuredly not a unique event. People have also told me stories of seeing the late 80s/early 90s Lyres live, stories that involved on-stage fistfights, thrown drumstools and much drunken tomfoolery. I didn’t like them enough to pay to see them live. Perhaps I should have, for these antics alone.

Re: these 45s – there are some really good ones. The 1979 Ace of Hearts Sounds Interesting debut “How Do You Know” is still a wonderful monaural masterpiece, steady and raw and quite restrained, but with an unending riff that is far more tightly-wound than any subsequent work. There’s an early live version (that sounds like a demo) recorded only a couple of weeks after they formed in ’79 as well. “Help You Ann” still sounds magnificent, as does “She Pays The Rent”. Some of the more overt Sonics-worship is OK. Most of it, especially as we crawl into the early 1990s and get into “We Sell Soul” and the garage/R&B boogie, is merely adequate, or not even that – but that’s OK; if you’re European, or hail from Boston (and only if you fit this demographic), this could still be the proverbial cat’s pajamas, and perhaps worth the $60+ clams you’ll need to shell out.

Music Reviews

Jon Irabagon, John Hegre & Nils Are Drønen: “Axis” LP/CD

irabagon-axisI’ve been venturing down a free jazz rabbit hole of my own making in recent weeks, which is something I’ve dabbled in occasionally over the past 25+ years but rarely with any regularity nor staying power. Just so happens that this exceptional new platter from Norwegian-American trio Irabagon, Hegre and Drønen arrived precisely when my receptors were most tuned to ingest it, and man, what a melting slab of intoxicating free wailing it is. I’ve given it the once-over several times now, and it reveals more with each playing. It’s feeding a true holy-grail quest for more recorded savagery from these guys on my part, though it’s pretty clear this is their first time recorded in this communal set-up.

We’re talking two tracks, one recorded in Berlin 2013 and the other in Fukuoka, Japan in early 2015. “Berlin” is a master burner that starts out quite slow, mournful and seemingly wholly structured, with true abrasiveness only starting to creep in around the sixth minute. Then, in the eighth minute a switch is flat-out flipped, and it all goes haywire. It’s free, squirting saxophone and rattling, scattered drum, all underpinned by Hegre’s soaring guitar, which sometimes functions as a rumbling near-bass, but more often as a building, tension-coiling backdrop that sounds less like guitar & much more like shimmering electronics.

It’s a pretty dizzying piece, clocking in at just under 18 minutes in full. “Fukuoka” is truly free throughout, but it admittedly takes a while to lift off. It’s cut through with loads of squeaks and plucks and sputtering, maintaining a moderate, minimal tone throughout with Irabagon’s sax bursting out painfully in spots. Ultimately, the thing transitions to an absolutely frantic final few minutes, with Drønen a total wild man on percussion, and the whole thing reeking of madness and amphetamines.

“Axis” is a super-flexible and boiling bit of free jazz skronkery that once again points to Norway as one of our planet’s improvisational ground zeroes. You can learn more about it and take a listen on Rune Grammofone’s site.

 

Music Reviews

COUNTRY TEASERS : “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” CD

(Originally posted on my Agony Shorthand blog, June 2006)

COUNTRY TEASERS : “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” CD……

Every couple years or so our old friends the COUNTRY TEASERS seem to come around with a new one chock full of jaunty skiffles, nasally rants and weirdo keyboard-based dirges, and every couple years the payoff amounts to about a solid B-, give or take a grade.

Oh, I’ve sort of said otherwise in the past, but the march of time & the wisdom of age has helped me to understand why I’m seeing the glass as half empty this time. To read the hyperbole spilled out on these guys every release, you’d think that these discs were something you’d wanna put on time & again, day in and day out all year, because these guys are such a wildly inventive gas. I don’t know about that; I can honestly say that for all my respect for this act, dragging their discs out of storage for repeat play doesn’t happen a whole hell of a lot. Allow me to explain.

First, let’s establish what’s good about this CD and about the Teasers in general. I’ve always liked the total ramshackle construction of their songs & the fuck-all way lead nihilist Ben Wallers slurs out his words. Everything about the band appears to be so inborn & with nary a thought to what folks think that they’re capable of some real naval-gazing bedroom genius at times. Every record has a couple of doozies. When they’re hitting on all six cylinders, a better FALL-inspired Northern European post-punk aggro country band can’t be found. You’ll find that band on this record’s “Points of View” and closing “Please Ban Music/Gegen Alles”, and it’s a real treat.

My concerns lie on two fronts. Ever since a friend gave me a tape of this at-the-time-unrecorded band around 1992 or so, I’ve quickly tired of Wallers’ insistence on punctuating every record with his giggle-giggle-I’m-so-bad “transgressive words” – “Jew”, “coon”, “Hitler”, “blacks”, “queer” etc. Once you get a politically incorrect
titter out of the listener – and believe me, I will always love a smartly-delivered right hook to the word police – what’s left? It appears that entire songs continue to be built around slipping said words into the lyrics, and that’s about as boring as bean curd.

But that’s not as big a deal as the aforementioned staying power of the music. You folks that talk about the Teasers like they’re consistently awesome and are such brave radical musical iconoclasts, are you seriously cranking this up and playing it for your pals? Because a large chunk of it’s dull dull dull, meandering with no direction forward, backward nor home – just made-up-on-the-point garbage (or highly calculated to sound that way, I don’t know).

I read three reviews of this thing already just this past couple weeks that posit that it’s the
goddamn musical second coming. Midheaven Mailorder, flacking for this thing on their web site, ask the very easily answerable question, “Is there another current group operating at such a high level musically or lyrically?”. Wow, probably not, right? The evidence is overwhelming! Seriously, did you guys even listen to this thing?

I repeat myself – The Country Teasers are a solid B- band all the way around, and this thing comes off the shelves for reevaluation again in 2008 at the earliest.

Music Reviews

Growth / Mr. Science / Palberta reviews

Some record reviews I’ve recently written:

GROWTH – Colour, Cut and Clarity 7”EP

An icy dip into Stockholm’s Growth’s sorrow and pity parade, and a righteously good one at that. I’d thought they’d broken up, as things were pretty quiet out Västertorp way since that “Turn/The Flood” single in 2013. This female trio’s transitioning a bit from messy, dark, soul-eating garage blues into a formidable practitioner of soundtrack-like goth eeriness, with a raw keyboard-driven punk edge and some seriously desperate vocals. Only “Amanda”, known previously as “Blind Voice” on an old tape, retains the same whole-cut vibe as the old stuff, but I’m finding myself melting into their new dark sound pretty willingly. Anyone w/ a Joy Division, Come or Little Claw patch on their jean jackets oughta check it out. (Lazy Octopus; lazyoctopusrecords.se)

MR. SCIENCE – 1978-1979 7”EP

The oddball part of “Mr. Science”, a brainiac, synth-obsessed weirdo in a white lab coat, was played in 1978-79 by one Brad Garton, who was soon to be part of Indiana’s Dow Jones & The Industrials. His goofy analog-era bleeping and blurping never made it to vinyl until this five-song archival bit came out as a bonus mail item to go w/ Family Vineyard’s very nice Dow Jones package. I thought the A-Frames ultimately did a better job cramming funny, five-dollar futuristic words into jerky meter & verse than Garton does here, but this is still a pretty solid & altogether brief gallop nonetheless. “The Number Song” is a nearly dub-like, echoed instrumental incantation of a phone number that I’m tempted to call myself (right after I finish rotary-dialing 867-5309). “Mutant Humans” sounds in 2016 like a SNL parody of late-70s Devo worship, but was probably the cat’s meow on the Indiana plains in its time. “Sociobiology” is the set’s robotic standout, and it laid a nice foundation for his later band’s outstanding “Ladies With Appliances”. I’m quite glad I got to hear it now, and your duty now for the future is to try and hear it yourself. (Family Vineyard; family-vineyard.com)

PALBERTA – Hot On The Beach 12”EP and DL

Apparently Palberta are scene dreamboats across small, leafy,
Eastern liberal arts college towns. They’ve got a willing patron in
Feeding Tube, who took this 2015 tape and gave it the vinyl treatment a
year later. I’ve generally liked bits and pieces of everything they’ve
done, especially when those pieces are unpredictably disjointed &
wild sub-1 minute no-wave skronking, like this thing’s excellently bent
“Thumb War” and “Fuck You”. But they’re trying too hard elsewhere to be
those “Ohmygod you guys I’m so weird” girls found tripping &
fluttering on campuses everywhere. “Prolly For The Best”, which chews up
most of the real estate here, is a fairly unlistenable thirteen minutes
of young women giggling over robotic dance music and/or doing that
“spoiled brat” nyanh-nyanh vocal thing that Kathleen Hanna so annoyingly
“perfected” twenty years ago. Pluck the good songs, discard the rest,
and remember why it is you scrape the web for mp3s and not vinyl.
(Feeding Tube; feedingtuberecords.com)