Faust – The Faust Tapes

The Faust Tapes

FaustThe Faust Tapes Virgin VC 501 (1973)

Faust was never a “commercial” sort of band.  But following complaints of low sales they switched to a new label and producer Uwe Nettelbeck struck a deal with a new label, Virgin, where he gave them Faust recordings for nothing and the label released them at a discount price (a full LP for the price of a single) aimed at the British market.  This proved to be boon for the band, with the album becoming their best-selling and most widely known by a substantial margin.  It is stitched together from bits and pieces of recordings into two seamless “suites” of sort.

As fragmentary as the recordings are, and despite the jumps between disparate styles, bits of highly melodic pop appear with some regularity — like a the catchy, rhythmic blasts of fuzz guitar that begin about seven minutes into side one, which provides a mini-song that irreverently confronts a state of mechanical, detached and indifference.  I once told someone that the band Deerhoof‘s album Reveille sounded like The Beatles had replaced Paul McCartney with Yoko Ono.  Regardless of whether that held in that case, it isn’t an entirely bad description of The Faust Tapes.  Certainly, casual pop listeners will be put off.  Yet that is kind of the point.  This is music that pays no deference to commercial, mainstream pop/rock music, even as it accepts that sort of music on the same terms as everything else.  The resultant amalgam of sounds allows the music to shift from the dour to the sprightly and back, and back again, with the impression that the listener is hearing only the best bits.  Or not.  Suffice it to say, there is an impudence at work that is ready and willing to clash with the status quo while at the same time winning over adherents with a likable goofiness and almost slapstick humor.  Definitely an important (however unlikely) statement from one of the bands that fought the good fight.

For more, read an excellent review here.

Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies’ Man

Death of a Ladies' Man

Leonard CohenDeath of a Ladies’ Man Warner Bros. BS 3125 (1977)

If it’s anything, this album is frustrating.  It is basically two entirely different albums smashed together — and they go together like oil and water.  Phil Spector provides a dense, rich backdrop in which Leonard Cohen’s songs and voice seem entirely lost.  At his most effective, Cohen’s music has a personal intimacy that seems to speak directly to the listener.  Spector’s music, on the other hand, revels in a kind of jubilant — even garish — kind of festive quality, which is fit for dancing and get-togethers.  Together, Spector and Cohen are a match made south of heaven.  On Death of a Ladies Man, Spector is doing what he always does, hardly different from anything he did with The Ronettes, etc.  He doesn’t give an inch.  Cohen is writing some excellent songs, ones that embody a late-Seventies come-down and are filled with an incisive sense of resignation and disappointment.  But finding your way to Cohen’s astute lyrics is far more of a chore than it needs to be.  As a singer, Cohen is unsuited to this kind of musical setting.  His limited vocal abilities don’t exactly allow him to pull a voice like Ronnie Spector or Tina Turner out of his back pocket.  That puts more of the blame on Phil Spector for the underwhelming results.  Even if the musical backdrop is fine in and of itself, it needs to suit the star performer.  Spector’s production would have befitted, say, Scott Walker (now there was a missed opportunity!).  Here, it’s all wrong.  This record is a minor disaster saved only by the fact that concentrated effort reveals a lot of substance in Cohen’s lyrics.  As an aside, it is interesting that some of Cohen’s vocal duets with Ronee Blakley distinctly recall Bob Dylan‘s with Emmylou Harris on Desire from a year earlier (and Dylan, along with Allen Ginsburg, makes a cameo appearance here on “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On”).

DJ /rupture – Minesweeper Suite

Minesweeper Suite

DJ /ruptureMinesweeper Suite Tigerbeat6 MEOW045 (2002)

Did you know that there are really only two kinds of people? Well, there are.  One kind are globalists, who believe in a overarching hierarchy of things, with all people and things with each in its place and, axiomatically, problems arise from people and things being out of place (or unhappy with their place).  The other kind are universalists who think that basically everybody is equal, with everyone and everything having direct access to participate in life and society and problems arise when people and things are denied equal treatment.  While there are degrees of each, these are very obviously mutually exclusive positions.  Guess which side DJ /rupture’s music falls on?  The latter, or course.  Minesweeper Suite is a DJ mix album that splices together music from around the globe, putting it all on an equal footing.  In a way, this is precisely the kind of thinking explored in Michael Denning‘s book Noise Uprising, about music in the early days of electrical recording technology.  DJ /rupture (born Jace Clayton) looks for connections between music from different parts of the planet, and opportunities for complementary mappings for the beats and melodies and timbres.  So, in a way, this is music that seeks to locate a universal folk music, inclusive of, well, everything (sort-of).  It maybe stops short of including all kinds of music — this is mostly the music made by and for the poor, the humble, the minority, and those outside the grip of hegemonic global media, which translates to the music of the Global South.  But isn’t that precisely what somebody interested in universalism would do, break from the globalist system that imposes a narrow band of “mainstream” music on everyone else?  The alternative to all that that Minesweeper Suite presents is a rootless music that easily floats among many possibilities.  Whatever bits of “mainstream” music are included in the mix tend to get no special privilege, but are also treated to honorable and supportive treatment.

In a 2008 essay, DJ /rupture said this about his genre of turntablist music:

“DJed music develops in the great centers: London, New York, Paris. But the artists make much of their living in forays to the periphery. To state culture bureaus, our music sounds like art and the ‘avant-garde,’ a means of prestige. To kids coming of age in a world of technology and unhinged capitalism, our music seems to sound the way global capital is—liquid, international, porous, and sped-up.

Yet our sounds are also a vocabulary for those who detest the walled-off concentrations of wealth, and steal property back: the collectives that build their own sound systems, stage free parties, and invite DJs to perform. The international DJ becomes emblematic of global capitalism’s complicated cultural dimension.”

As for the specifics of the music, there is a lot of Jamaican stuff, Indian, North African, and old and new American R&B and soul.  The bass tends to feel loud, to the point of developing a round, liquid and kind of giggling effect, with a noisy, overdriven edge.  At times it creates a foreboding quality, almost like the good parts are buried under a impossibly massive and impenetrable deluge, though most of the time the music has a hopeful quality that looks toward promising possibilities.

You can download this album (and others) for free from DJ /rupture’s web site.

Patti Smith – Trampin’


Patti SmithTrampin’ Columbia CK 90330 (2004)

The title track is quite good (it’s indebted to Marian Anderson‘s version from He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands), as are “Radio Baghdad” and “Gandhi” (“Cash” is decent too).  The rest is dreck.  Most of this is just over-polished, boilerplate stuff played by a band lead by noticeably over-the-hill rockers.  The songs often sound stiff, like the rote hard rock of “Stride of the Mind.”  Gung Ho may never have really achieved a level of excitement, or offered anything of anthemic power, while Trampin’ does reach those heights.  But this album also scrapes the bottom of the barrel of feigned significance on “Jubilee,” “My Blakean Year” and “Trespasses.”  Unfortunately, the merits of a few really nice songs are lost amongst the rest of this miserable garbage.

Sensational Nightingales – It’s Gonna Rain Again

It's Gonna Rain Again

Sensational NightingalesIt’s Gonna Rain Again MCA 28033 (1972)

Soulful, mellow gospel produced by Ira Tucker of The Dixie Hummingbirds.  This lineup of The Sensational Nightingales featured Horace Thompson, Brother Joseph Wallace, Charles B. Johnson and Willie George Woodruff.  The group was among those top-flight gospel acts that updated their sound to contemporary tastes into the 1970s.  With accompaniment led by a reverb-heavy guitar, the smooth, simple vocals are all catchy and inviting.  The sound is vaguely similar to The Swan SilvertonesI Found the Answer, The Consolers, and probably lots of other gospel of the day on Peacock Records and Nashboro Records.  There is some filler toward the end, but I can’t help but really enjoy this.

Sly & The Family Stone – The Woodstock Experience

The Woodstock Experience

Sly & The Family StoneThe Woodstock Experience Legacy 88697 48241 2 (2009)

I think it’s great that the complete performance of Sly & The Family Stone at Woodstock has finally been released — it only took 40 years!  What is amazing is that the band has a long-standing reputation as having put on fierce live shows in their prime, yet other than a few stray songs on festival compilations they never released a full-length live album.  That always seemed incongruous.  Now, finally, at least the Woodstock performance is available.  It starts off inauspiciously with “M’Lady,” which is followed by an apology for the bad sound and a plea for corrective measures.  After that, the sound does improve, even if it’s still not perfect.  The group certainly did have a complex sound, with vocals coming from just about everybody, a horn section, and lots of interaction from all the performers.  The music placed stiff demands on the still evolving equipment of the late 60s.  Anyway, when the band gets rolling, they are quite a force, regardless of the sound problems.  They focus on a lot of uptempo, funky numbers with a lot of drive.  Rose Stone‘s organ takes a prominent position.  This is just a great performance, and I can only hope that a band as successful as Sly & The Family Stone–led by a noted producer no less — recorded more live material that will be released some day.

There are a few things to be said about the packaging here.  A whole series of “Woodstock Experience” collections were released featuring Woodstock recordings of an artist/group together with the studio album they released beforehand (in this case, Stand!).  The cynic in me looks at this as a crass marketing move, given that live Woodstock performances are likely to appeal mostly to fans who probably already have the studio album — forcing them to repurchase it to get to the new live material.  Though these seem to be priced such that you aren’t totally ripped off if you are repurchasing.  More significant is the inaccurate designation of “previously unreleased” material.  “Love City” is denoted here as previously unreleased, which is incorrect because it was released on the 1994 comp Woodstock Diary.

Swan Silvertones – I Found the Answer

I Found the Answer

Swan SilvertonesI Found the Answer Peacock PLP-181 (1973)

An album supposedly culled from leftover material recorded for Vee-Jay Records in the 1960s that develops a soul-inflected sound — though given the apparent absence of Paul Owens and the possibility that it’s Claude Jeter imitator Carl Davis rather than Jeter himself here, I wonder if this material is from the post-Vee-Jay era.  There are bouncy, up-tempo rhythms as well as slower, smoother, organ-drenched sounds.  At times there is even just a bit of country-rock influence.  From songs like “How Great Thou Art” it’s easy to see the direction the group would take through the mid-1970s during their tenure on HOB Records.  This album has an easygoing charm.  It’s yet another forgotten gem in The Swan Silvertones’ catalog.

[Note:  Though I don’t believe this is available on CD by itself, it’s available in its entirety on Raisin’ the Roof]

Pere Ubu – St. Arkansas

St. Arkansas

Pere UbuSt. Arkansas spinART SPART 108 (2002)

Approaching its third decade as a band, Pere Ubu sounded surprising close to its late 1970s roots on St. Arkansas.  If “avant garage” has long been the term of choice to describe their style of rock and roll, it remains the right way to describe this album.  As a band, they thrive on the fringe of acceptability.

St. Arkansas is a road album. David Thomas reportedly wrote the words from Conway, Arkansas to Tupelo, Mississippi, from I-40 to U.S. 49 to State 6.  Movement is implied in the songs, compiled from isolated moments and drawn into a surreal reflection of americana, as if passed by in a moving car, in a blur.

“The Fevered Dream of Hernando DeSoto” opens the disc very much in the band’s style of old.  But this isn’t purely a retreat into the past.  St. Arkansas has gems to offer both newcomers and Pere Ubu’s cult following.  At times the album grooves (“333” and the Brian Wilson-meets-Ray Davies sounding “Phone Home Jonah”), while other times it perplexes at a halting pace (“Michele”).

Pere Ubu’s lineup of the last five years can coax a balance out of extremes. The liner notes suggest: “Most people know that by moving between the two speakers of your hi fi system a point can be located at which the sound seems to lock into place. Ordinarily this is the point that forms an equilateral triangle with the two sound sources.  With Pere Ubu, however, this point has been located directly in front of the right hand source.  There are reasons for this.”  If this all seems very deliberate, know that the production on this album is a little raw and hollow.  It’s not terrible, but it seems somewhat underbaked overall.

This is a good one, and it is worth saying again that it is probably the closest to the band’s 1970s sound as anything since that time — if that’s your thing.  Yet it is a notch below the underrated return to form album Ray Gun Suitcase, which has the advantage in freshness and inventive techniques, even if it is less song-driven.