Friday, August 15, 2014



Death, III lp
The Very Most, THINGS TOO OBVIOUS TO SING 7”/download

To Mr. Marty – another furry Muse...


          Death was a Detroit proto-punk band, originally consisting of the brothers Hackney (Bobby on bass and vocals; David on guitar (died 2000); Dannis on drums).  At first they were a funk band called RockFire Funk Express, and became a gospel band named The 4th Movement after Death disbanded.  There have been three posthumous records (there was only one single released during their lifetime, as the group were dropped by Clive Davis when they refused to change their name) of various demos, home recordings and studio outtakes (For The World To See gathered up all the recordings done for Davis in 1975).  With their new guitarist, Bobbie Duncan, they have made a new single as Death and are evidently working on an album.
          Spiritual.Mental.Physical, from 2011, gathered some fragmentary material, including bass and drum solos.  This is a more fully realized collection, dating from 1975 to 1992, mostly in the early part of that range (two recordings from 1980, and two from 1992). 
          “Introduction By David”, from 1975, is just what it sounds like – it’s a very noisy, distorted, Hendrix meets Stooges fragment.
          “North Street”, from 1980, is a tasty piece of wailing blues-rock with a cutting lyric about poverty and the mean streets of Detroit.
          “Open Road” has an interesting stop-start rhythm, almost math-rock in its push-and-pull, and also dates from 1980.  It is an ode to freeing yourself, though it is not surprising, in light of the group’s imminent change, that the path is the Lord.
          “We Are Only People”, from 1976, has a wild echoplexed guitar, followed by some softly chiming chorused guitar chording and a choral vocal.  At about halfway through its 9-minute length, it takes on a slightly funky groove not entirely unlike “Coney Island Baby” by Lou Reed.  It also calls for the importance of freedom and surviving.
          “Restlessness”, from 1980, has a firm and rapid beat and a bluesy rock arrangement, and more Hendrixian soloing.  It is nearly four minutes long, and could carry on at greater duration if it had wanted to.  A solid groove with some interesting staccato guitar chording at points.
“Free” from 1975 seems to be a home recording, and has a nicely phased

 guitar and an impassioned vocal.  I think there is some very light drumming, but
the fidelity is on the low side, and it unfortunately ends abruptly at 2 minutes, as though tape had run out.         
          “Yes He’s Coming” is not that surprising in its subject matter, from 1992, but the dubby echo on the vocals and the gentle groove of the drums elevate it above the somewhat undistinguished guitar strum and muddy mix.
          “First Snowfall in Detroit”, from 1975, is a delicate and downright lovely jazzy/bluesy instrumental ballad.
          The record concludes with “We’re Gonna Make It” from 1992, which is also in the recent documentary A Band Called Death.  It is, oddly enough, almost a country song, with a twangy guitar and a 6/8 beat.  It features all the brothers singing, joined by a trumpet, from the sound of things, though it could be a synthetic addition.  It is a heart-warming and touching number, though the fact that David did not, in fact, make it to old age gives it a bitter-sweet quality.
          This is the last archival release, and is probably the strongest one in terms of sounding like it could have been a full album on its own, though its long gestation clearly prevents that.
If you want them more savage, try For The World To See.  If you enjoy the instrumentals or the less polished material, select Spiritual.Mental.Physical.  Heck, I’d recommend all three!

          After the relative pop of Chemistry of Common Life and the prog rock-opera of David Comes To Life, this record is a bit more back-to-basics for this Canadian hardcore ensemble.  Interestingly, for whatever reason, it actually lists the members by their real names, whereas in the past they have used pseudonyms which have occasionally even changed for some of them from record to record.  The instrumentation is kept within the group this time, other than Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., and George Pettit late of Alexisonfire on guest vocals, one track each, with the drummer also playing guitar and piano, one guitarist also playing keyboards and bass (thus supplanting Sandy on three tracks), and two members also providing backing vocals.
          As usual, the lyrics are divided between Damian Abraham and Mike Haliechuk.  Oddly, though they have said they have differences which have resulted in tension within the group, I don’t notice any dramatic stylistic
distinction, and would never have known from looking at the lyric sheet who wrote what.
          One sign of evolution between records is that, while Damian still has the domineering, harsh voice I would cherish in a top Daddy, his enunciation is clearer and it is not always as necessary for me to pull out the insert (yes, I know I’m getting dangerously close to being my parents who kvetch about how they can’t make out the words in modern songs, but it CAN be a problem at the velocity and sonic clarity of much hardcore to pick out anything other than choruses or shouted hooks), other than maybe on “Led By Hand”, which is a wall of noise (not surprising as the track with the guy from Dinosaur Jr. on it, as that band played perhaps the loudest concert I have attended to date)).
          Actually, that is another variance here.  In general, the parts are more distinct and the tempos are more deliberate and measured.  In the past, that toy piano that opens “Echo Boomer” would probably have been buried beneath the wall of guitars.  Nowadays, it’s easier to pick out details of rhythm and riffs, probably because the guitarist and drummer were involved in the production and mix.
          It is, in my estimation, the record closest to how they sound live, which is kind of ironic.  In concert, at least the time I saw them, they benefit from a relatively tidy balance of chaos, and, to be all Bear-creepy for the second time in this issue, the visual hook and commanding presence of Damian Abraham.  Though that is clearly not an option on an LP (though if you peer really close between the grooves in just the right way, just as with those potato chips with Jesus’ face on them, you can see...yeah, made you look...), the clear production and positioning of his voice here makes him easier to appreciate.
          It is, in the final analysis, an interesting mix of democracy and ‘make me louder’.  Other than the bass, which is, as with much hardcore, not pushed far forward, though it isn’t buried here, everyone is distinct.  Far from a pop record, but still approachable in its gruff, poetic-punk way.

Brightside/In The Picture, The Julie Ruin (Julie Ruin Records 7”, RSD release)
          It may be somewhat difficult to find this, as it was a Record Store Day single consisting of tracks NOT on Run Fast, the debut album from Kathleen Hanna’s new band, but it’s worth tracking down.
          The A-side has a driving, vaguely martial beat with dramatic backing ‘oh-woah-oh-ohs’ and a catchy shouty lead vocal, with a brief super-phased guitar solo and simple, beeping keyboards.
          The B-side opens with a heavily reverbed guitar and a much sweeter, soft vocal from Kathleen, backed by droning organ and melodic fragments of piano, as well as a slightly more complicated drum pattern.
While neither song is as political as Bikini Kill or as danceable as Le Tigre, they are both pronouncements of female perspective and empowerment in their subtle way.
          I can see why neither track made the album, as the first one is a bit under-arranged and the second a tad too delicate, but they are glimpses into the diversity of the quintet’s musical aspirations and ability.
         Run Fast is fierce, in both literal and slang sense, and I give it mad props as well, but it was out nearly a year ago, and we must move on from the distant past. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic, though I find it wearying how quickly pop culture sometimes declares art to be ‘over’ or ‘back in the day’).

          The Residents’ theory of obscurity applied even in 1972, when the band barely existed and this record was first issued.  This double 45 from that year (which they sent to the White House, only to have it returned ‘refused’) has a conceit that each track is by a different band.  Hint – the future eyeball boys lie!
          ‘Fire’ has an oddly catchy, if dissonant vibe, and the hook is the chanted/crooned line ‘Santa Dog’s a Jesus fetus’, though the guitar line has a mutant jazz/funk scratch to it.  Once it’s over, you may find yourself droning and
cheesing along, though you may not like yourself for it.  Thank you, Ivory and the Brain Eaters!
          ‘Aircraft Damage’ is attributed to Arf and Omega, Featuring the Singing Lawn Chairs (Arf and Omega are the conjoined twin wrestlers in The Residents’ uncompleted film Whatever Happened to Vileness Fats?).  It consists of the
wrestlers’ self-aggrandizing rants and nonsensical ramblings, with barking dogs and a Residents-and-friends chorale about kicking a cat (today).  The music is martial drums and a warped keyboard sound.  It follows the principle of calculating how much mayhem you can endure and then giving you twenty more seconds than that, though it comes back for a pretty coda.
          ‘Explosion’ is blamed on The Delta Nudes.  It has troubling wordless ‘doo doos’, severely free saxophone, appealing if repetitive violin, though the brass/reeds and clanging percussion tread on it, and it’s over in two minutes.
And ‘Lightning’ gets associated with The College Walkers.  It starts with some whistling, copied and then usurped by an organ/mellotron, tympanis, sticks, and odd vocal noises.  And then there are the distorted dada pronouncements that emerge towards the end.  Stuff about the future, cranberries, females and...well, you won’t be able to make literal sense of them.
          Certainly an oddity, especially as the voices don’t sound like the usual crew, though that lends credence to the statement that there really ARE no Residents.  Many people thought it perverse anti-publicity, but it may be true it is whoever is available, though the instrumental core seems steady (well, from 1972 to 1982).
          Buy and/or die, to paraphrase the old Ralph Records catalogue.

Tomorrow Island, Riverrun (self-released lp/digital download)
          This Toronto-based ensemble (Tom Richards, keys and electronics; Peter Lutek, space clarinet; Scott Peterson, bass and electronics; and Jake Oelrichs, drums)passed through my town in July and performed a sidewalk gig in front of a downtown record store, on a very, very hot day, in advance of its evening engagement at local venue The Artel.  That show was performed unplugged with bass, trombone, clarinet and minimal drums, and sounded like slightly mutated New Orleans jazz. 
          This record, and presumably the full show later (I did not go – I’m just not much of a night owl...), is something else entirely.  It is not entirely unlike Tortoise, inasmuch as while it is instrumental and has certain textural and compositional similarities to jazz, it is more akin to prog or experimental free music, though clearly composed and mostly planned but then processed to within an inch of its life. 
          It consists of four pieces, averaging ten minutes each, and opens with ‘Kui’, which is eerie and has some languorous clarinet and broad piano chords stating the melody, but the drums also dominate and are treated rough, though they seemingly enjoy their torment.
          “Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas” follows and features some interesting clarinet alterations, truly earning the credit for it given on the sleeve.  It almost ends up sounding like a violin at certain moments, which should give you an idea.  It is pretty much the lead instrument here, barring some electronic swooshes, electric-piano-like noodling and chording, and droning sounds that resemble over-heating machinery off in the distance, though there are some outbursts from timbale-like drums and cymbals and sticks.  It’s the ‘pop song’ here, as the only track under 10 minutes, but that’s enormously relative.
          Side B opens with “Settlement”, and sets out on its way with a fairly straight, plaintive clarinet theme, underlaid with gentle drums and an upright bass.  It doesn’t start that way, as the bass begins to make some odd, manipulated noises and the clarinet becomes rather abstract and then makes some Wookie-like complaints, and the electric piano chords provide accompaniment.  More ring- modulated electronic sounds begin to splay themselves across the soundscape, and both the bass and reeds become decidedly ‘out there’.  Even when the clarinet
and percussion return to a melodic, rhythmically conventional approach, the scary electronics still hang around and intrigue/alarm the listener some more.
          “Tangent” closes things, and while it has moments that do sound like supper-club or late-night-jazz, the processing and the electronics still keep you on your toes.
          A very intriguing record, and certainly not easy-listening, but for the adventurous soul, it has its rewards, and it never fails to be at least attention-grabbing. 
          What do I know about Boise, Idaho? It is referenced in the Canadian artist Susan Jack’s song “I Thought Of You Again” as a place to which you can always get back before you die. And now I know it as the hometown of Jeremy Jensen, the mainman of the veteran indie-pop band The Very Most (on this particular record, it’s largely him on his own).
          I first happened upon the band due to its song “Jonathan Richman”, and in my watching the video/slide show, Mr. Jensen’s not being hard on the furry eye was a factor in me doing more exploring, though I enjoyed the ditty as well.
          “Wondr’ing” opens with a warm chiming organ, and then goes into swirling string and woodwind sounds, woodblock, and Jeremy’s rich vocals backed by three guests (Vinnie Ransome, Adam and Darcie Sanders).  It concludes with a brief chorale in Beach Boys style.
          “Oh Maisy” has a firm backbeat, twangy guitar, female backing vox from Gia Trotter (she sings on all but the first track), a hooky keyboard part and a clever lyric about the title character’s interesting ideas about the world.
          “About Forgetting” has an emphatic guitar-and-drum-downbeat akin to a Smiths song, though the Hammond Organ is more like a Zombies number.  The flute-like fills and the phased vocal also recall arty British music of the 60s, though the staccato ending puts us back with Morrissey’s crew.
          The title track plunges us into a busy arrangement, on which one Astrid Wiezell sings fetchingly and airily. 
          All told, a delightful confection of four songs, pairing slightly pointed lyrics with hooky tunes, as it should be.

No comments:

Post a Comment