Music Reviews

A Few Words About Bill Direen for Cropped Out 2018

FH000028The annual Cropped Out music festival just wrapped up in Louisville, KY this past weekend. I wasn’t there, but I did get to pen a little thing in the festival program about Mr. Bill Direen, who came from New Zealand to play a set there.

Truth be told, I stole most of it from my own intro to the interview I did w/ him in Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine #2 (still available!). Yet I shuffled the words around enough that I thought it might be interesting to Direen fans and/or potential Direen fans who stumble across this on the internet, whenever and however you got here.

Here it is:

Bill Direen has cast an enveloping and beautifully unpredictable shadow over New Zealand’s indigenous rock music landscape the last forty years, after starting up a disjointed, all-shards experimental punk rock band called Vacuum back in 1977. His music has both skirted the edges of some dominant underground musical trends while being very deliberately out of step with them as well. Direen’s strange, abstract pop creations have been both “of” and “not of” the country’s Flying Nun-dominated post-’77 musical history.

1981:18080
Six Impossible Things, 1980

He’s a recognized hero to those who gobbled up anything and everything Flying Nun & 1980s New Zealand coughed up, yet those who were willing to dig several layers deeper, on the periphery of the Velvets-inspired scene, have found many incredible gorgeous, offbeat pop gems such as “Alien”, “Dirty and Disgusting”, “Girl at Night” and literally dozens of others.

For you more patient and/or musically adventurous types, those who revel in the abstract and the off-putting (tape splices, compromised fidelity, live recordings and piss-takes released as LP cuts, and the like) – and who moreover get a big charge out of records released in editions of 60 or 100 or 150 – Direen’s got a goldmine of material to offer up to your camp as well.

When challenged with others’ ideas of how his music should be played, marketed or otherwise shaped, Direen has found new ways of strategizing, whether by starting his own label (South Indies, in the early 80s); by rapidly changing band members or band names; by deliberately botching his bands’ spelling and thereby willfully obscuring his own greatness (Bill Direen and the Bilders; Builders; Billdireen; Bilderburgers; Die Bilder, etc.), or by even releasing his material on CD-R.

Bill Direen’s musical output into the 21st century continues to reinforce every aspect of this iconoclastic musical ethos: contrary, beautiful, slapdash, non-commercial, raw, spontaneous and stunningly weird.

Music Reviews

HIGH RISE “II” reissue

HR-II-Front-Cover-Site-Scale-3Larry from In The Red Records sent me an unsolicited tape of this masterpiece in the early 1990s, and it blew me the proverbial f*ck away. It’s been subsequently widely and rightly hailed as a (the) high-water mark of the Japanese late-20th-century underground, and as a this-point-forward template for the utmost nth in blown-out psychedelic guitar onslaught rock. Any band who later dared to spurt out the sort of distorted feedback squeals Munehiro Narita patented here was immediately scoffed at and tagged a “High Rise clone” by the sort of insular, all-knowing music douchebags I have long associated myself with. Now it’s been reissued by US label Black Editions in a gorgeously none-more-black sleeve and heavyweight vinyl.

Here’s what I said about the thing on my old blog Agony Shorthand back in 2005:


“High Rise II remains their masterpiece. The debut record Psychedelic Speed Freaks was also insane & wild distortion overload, but it suffered from a Solger-like sound that was more akin to a boombox recording than something you’d wanna bang your noggin to; the 3rd record Dispersion was just fine but leveled out the chaos a bit and branched the sound into the great improvisational beyond. Others built upon that one, but continued to be a bit less frenzied and more expansive than the first few. But this one – look out.

Any true “punk” worth his punker stripes should be getting down with this record in a jiffy, because it’s one of the all-time howlers. The solos are so over-the-top distorted and the drums are caked with so much reverb, it’s a total maddening echo chamber filled with the ghosts of Greg Ginn, Davie Allen, Sterling Morrison, Stacey Sutherland and Ginger Baker. Vocals are pretty much an afterthought, but there are present on just about every track, it’s just that they’re buried under the dense layers. There’s a 13-minute “Sister Ray”-meets-“Mother Sky” classic on here called “Pop Sicle” that became a staple of their live show, sort of their own “Black To Comm” & a knockout wailer you’ve got to hear. But mostly it’s just fast, fast, fast and rawer than raw. A stone classic disc that I’d recommend to anyone with a pulse and a tolerance for maximum volume.” (Black Editions; blackeditions.com)

Music Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS – “Bränn Ner Hela Skiten” LP

brannI really have to be in an expansive and large-hearted mood to be magnanimous about this sort of compilation. I guess right now I’m not. After seeing that Förlag För Fri Musik staples Leda and Enhet För Fri Musik would be on this edition-of-100 all-Swedes LP, along w/ many unknown fellow Nordic travelers, I plunked down the required “import fees” to get one of ‘em shipped across the ocean to me, only to find that it’s the sort of bunk jive comp I’ve spent most of my life attempting to avoid.

It’s effectively a collection of sound snippets: some noisy, some ethereal and folkish, some of a masterbatory clown with a horn honking away solo in a bedroom. No matter how “fractured” and “lo-fi” the recording, there’s really no effective way to piece together barrel scrapings this mindless and somehow posit that it’s a document of a scene that’s worthy of documentation. Divorced from the broader context of their own (excellent) recent LP, even the Enhet För Fri Musik tracks land with all the authority of a missed left hook. The proverbial silver lining is that there’ll probably be someone on Discogs willing to take this off my hands for what I paid for it. (editor’s note: there was!)

Music Reviews

SKIFTANDE ENHETER – “Mördande Rutin/Jag Har Fått Nog” 45

seAnother absolutely joyful stumble-punk 45 from these Swedes, delivered in a hurried yet minimal style that mimics the sound of a beer-sloshed 50-yard dash with both shoelaces tied together. There’s actually more musical competence & self-discipline present in ‘em this time, and the beeping, pump-organish keyboards definitely add a retro UK-DIY touch. Even the scribbled cover art and overall first-take vibe has the same doofus charm of The Screamin’ Mee-Mees’ Live From The Basement and Mike Rep & The Quotas’ Rocket To Nowhere. I can already feel my net worth creeping up merely by owning it.

Buy and listen to the record here.

Music Reviews

Wild World of Feeding Tube Records

feeding-tube-logo-textThere’s a sub-sub-underground label called Feeding Tube Records that many of you know about, and maybe have a record or three from. Yet while we were all busy waiting for buses, filing our nails and making dinner, they were popping out even more beautiful new vinyl records from some of the world’s weirdest weirdos, at a Roger Bannister-paced clip, no less.

Oh, you say you didn’t hear about that Donkey No No LP nor that edition-of-200 Buck Gooter thing when it came out? That’s almost entirely by design. The people whom were meant to notice, noticed. They may very well already live in Western Massachusetts freak country – along with label head Ted Lee and co-conspirator Byron Coley, who operate a Feeding Tube record store & art gallery called Rozz Tox – or maybe they’re just better with the internet-ordering trigger finger than the rest of us, and are regularly picking up these outer-limits transmissions based on the label’s reputation and its Coley-penned press kits alone.

Hey, I definitely don’t like everything on the label. You won’t either. I haven’t even heard half of it. It can’t be sampled on Spotify, it’s not up on Apple Music, and much of it’s not even on Bandcamp, either. It’s solely on limited-edition vinyl and sometimes even (gasp!) tapes. Those LPs seem to be coming with download codes most of the time now, which is as it should be. Sometimes their artists are so self-consciously daffy or mind-bendingly “free” that they’ve broken from the moorings of “music I can listen to” and entered the room-clearing world of “turn that shit off, please”.

Yet there are some phenomenal mind-erasers from 2013-onward that capture just how wonderfully Feeding Tube has captured some of the most experimental and socket-bursting creative artists like no multiple-genre label since ESP-Disk:

Don’t know these gems? Well, they’re the ones “popular” enough to have dented my own considerably more pedestrian tastes, and they’re damn good records. You think that shit’s out there? You oughta hear the Curse Purse and Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer records. Or some of the newer ones we’re going to talk about in this piece.

As mentioned, Feeding Tube is on a relentless mission to uncover the strangest and most outré slices of the underground, often mixing those sorts of releases in with experimental guitar folk, free jazz and sometimes even thundering garage punk stuff. I’ve got a bunch of the recent ones assembled around me, as well as a turntable upon which to spin them, so let me clue you in on the sonic mysteries I’ve unlocked in the course of exploring their many delights. Like I said, it won’t always be pretty, but if it wasn’t a little rough around the edges, it wouldn’t be on this label in the first place.

Bridge-of-Flowers-Live-Demos1Let’s start nice and easy with BRIDGE OF FLOWERS, who are ramshackle Western Massachusetts heirs to “I’m Set Free”-era Velvet Underground crossed w/ muffled PSF Records Japanese psych. Their debut album is a chiming collection of live tracks and demos, appropriately called Live / Demos. I’m really into it. It has this totally tossed-together feel, with tracks cut so that it appears that only 5/6ths of them were judged as “presentable”, with the strange, random deletion of any and all opening and closing seconds. Sometimes, as on “Dream (Vessel)”, it sounds like 45rpm music being played at 33rpm speed. Because it is demos and live stuff, Coley astutely says in the liner notes, “Should we expect greater things of this band as they go along? The smart money says yes”. Just as that first Dream Syndicate EP in 1982 quickly gave way to “The Days of Wine and Roses” within the year, so too perhaps shall Bridge of Flowers travel. No pressure.

bock-600-OMEED GOODARZI is another Feeding Tube local doing a real outerworld/nether limits mind-trip with his debut Zoltar Hid All The Locks / Minnows LP. Ben Chasny meets the Hampton Grease Band in the Sun City Girls’ caravan of scars? That’s what I think, anyway. It’s a song cycle built on ever-shifting sands, sometimes loner folk but more often a plodding dose of annoyance, served up on many plates. I can pluck out bits that I’d love to hear again, but that would mean wading through the stuff I didn’t. On the other hand, LOUISE BOCK has created a droning and expansive sleep/dream state on the often-horrifying Repetitives in Illocality, a soundtrack to her own psyche with electrified cello, lap harp, synthesizer and multi-tracked vocal fragments that chop and stutter at will. Her name’s not Louise Bock, either – it’s Taralie Peterson, and she’s also in a duo called Spires That in the Sunset Rose. Now you know! Really otherplanetary stuff that reassembles the brain waves if one listens closely enough. I actually had to cram mine back together just to write this paragraph.

doozer-600It really chaps my hide that I’d never heard nor heard of THE DOOZER before this year, the year they (he?) released their (his?) sixth album Figurines on Feeding Tube. The other five were on other labels, including Siltbreeze. It’s way up in my alley. Electrified English folk-n-strum, with enough cranial-loosening psych elements (baffling lyrics, astral guitar wandering etc.) to suggest a deep affinity and perhaps marination within the weird UK 90s underground of Ashtray Navigations and Vibracathedral Orchestra, with a dose of Alastair Galbraith to boot. Or maybe it really is just a fella who once read a really good article about Syd Barrett in Mojo. The songs are actual songs, with a few arty forks in the road, and all with a fairly pleasant and sometimes poppy disposition. I think I’ve listened to it more than just about anything else this year so far, and I think you should, too.

new-parents-600NEW PARENTS maybe don’t really belong with this bent crew, but hmm, lemme check the spine here on Transient Response – yep, says it right here: “Feeding Tube Records”. On one level it’s this sorta soft-serve, cosmically-inclined 1970s private press folk rock, perhaps created by a friendly group of Jesus people. Male and female vocals harmonize and trade off, and it wouldn’t be totally off the mark to compare them with Big Blood, being from the Northeast and all. On another level it’s like one of those alt-country/folk “No Depression”-ish nightclub acts I kept running into at the Tractor Tavern in the late 90s during my two-year run as a resident of Seattle, leavened with a little violin. Just like Amanda X on Siltbreeze or De De Troit on Mystic, it leaves one to puzzle out, “now how did this get here?”

WEEPING-BONG-600Sometimes when I worry about the crisis of delayed adulthood that grips modern society, I’ll come across a band that calls themselves something like the WEEPING BONG BAND, and my heart sinks even further. At least this band has Anthony Pasquerosa as a member – you may know him from his solo guitar work or from his crude blaster of a punk rock record as Burnt Envelope. The duo’s album, Weeping Bong Band, is instrumental, somewhat droning early morning sunrise music, with shimmering guitars and a general vision-summoning of waterfalls, rainbows and mist. In other words – it makes me wanna thrash on their noses and go “hippie”.

Sophie-Cooper-Delphine-Dora-600I’ve really enjoyed certain works by both Englishwoman SOPHIE COOPER and Frenchwoman DELPHINE DORA on their own, so it’d make sense that they’d be even better together, am I right? Get Sophie’s Our Aquarius and Delphine’s Eudaimon and you’ll see why one might posit such a thing. Yet on their new Divine Ekstasys the sum really is less than its parts, and I say that as a fan. Cavernous, mostly wordless incantations over ethereal and sometimes menacing drones or experimental abstractions. Cooper makes some lovely drones with Julian Bradley as part of her side project The Slowest Lift, but I just don’t feel that there was enough “pre-planning” or something before she and Ms. Dora let it fly in the studio. Maxine Funke said in the 5th issue of my fanzine, with regard to this duo, that “having their music on is like having angels in the house”. Why am I not hearing these angels??

mette-tashi-1400I’ll tell you what I do love, though. It’s this album by free-sax goddess METTE RASMUSSEN and guitarist TASHI DORJI – an album that they’ve seen fit to call Mette Rasmussen / Tashi Dorji. I hope these two play together in duos for the rest of their days – as long as Rasmussen can still be allowed to play with Chris Corsano sometimes on the side. What a cranked-up improvisational frenzy this thing is, particularly right out of the gate with “Cattail Horse”. I haven’t put in my ballot yet for “Free Jazz Pieces of the Year” yet but I already know this is going to win. These two really communicate and let fly together beautifully; Dorji’s electric wall of hum and static is often the perfect reaction to Rasmussen’s absolutely over-the-top saxophone wail, which rivals Virginia Genta and Herr Brötzmann himself for deepest ear-cavity cleansing. And guess what? It’s on Feeding Tube.

arnunknown-600Ever been at a party or home gathering, where all of a sudden that quiet guy in the corner has just busted out his acoustic guitar around 11pm, and then everyone’s forced to sit around in varying degrees of embarrassment and comfort, listening to him drone on with his “originals”? Now you can have this warm feeling in your own home with MAZOZMA’s Stark Joy album. It’s a guy named Mike Turner, and he’s recorded his own rustic, heavy-on-the-strings, acoustic songs of personal torment and love on his iPhone (it says here). All very languid and very first take, with not a one of them distinctive enough to listen to a second time. But I’ll definitely listen to ERIC ARN & MARGARET UNKNOWN’s frantic, two-guitar improvisation LP Paranza Corta again for sure. When these two really get going with their unusually-tuned, well mic’d acoustic interplay, it sounds like the perfect soundtrack to an ant colony documentary, sped up 100x. It’s pretty berserk. Last year I bought Eugene Chadbourne’s 1976 Volume One: Solo Acoustic Guitar, and this reminds me more than a little bit of that.

hated-music-1400Finally, there’s drum hero CHRIS CORSANO’s wild 2000 team-up with saxophonist PAUL FLAHERTY – who just turned 70 (!) – called The Hated Music. This was put out back then by Coley’s label Ecstatic Yod and is getting a reissue here eighteen years later. It’s a decent combination of long-drawn out wails from Flaherty and crazed rolling & filling from Corsano. While I found the longer tracks to be pretty turgid affairs, and the dying quail sounds Flaherty’s calling up on “Incident at Powder Ridge” to be flat-out grating, the duos hits back hard with an absolutely feral piece like “Rut One” – and now I totally get it. I have a disc with these two fellas + Mette Rasmussen that improves upon this infinitely by her presence, so I think I’m just going to go and listen to that one instead.

I render my conclusions thusly: this is probably the most varied and deeply underground label on the planet right now that still keeps a pinky finger hooked onto the pulse of what was once called “rock and roll”. Much of it is nothing of the sort, and that’s what makes Feeding Tube both so boggling and wonderful – if you don’t know the artists already, anything you pick up under the FT imprint is just as likely to be two guys farting into a paper sack as it is a Velvet Underground-inspired rock record as it is some mutant slice of freaked-out free jazz. Keep your ears open both for its pleasures and its dangers, and you’ll be approaching the wild world of Feeding Tube Records appropriately.

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.