The Moodists – Two Fisted Art

I recently got hold of a double album of rare early Australian garage rock and punk called “Tales from the Australian Underground 1976-1989” which starts with Radio Birdman and The Saints, who I know, and then works its way through a whole bunch of bands I’d never heard of, that is until I started reading David Nicholls’ detailed history of Aussie music “Dig”, occasionally touches on others I am acquainted with, The Scientists and The Birthday Party of course, and, which fills in a huge gap in my musical knowledge. Aside from The Birthday Party, who were what they were, the music is for the most part, fairly similar in that there are familiar elements from 60s and early 70s pop and rock and earlier blues roots in play. However nestled on track 2 of the second disc is “The Disciples Know” by The Moodists. It stands aside and apart from everything else in the collection in its completely unique approach.

I cannot remember when I first heard The Moodists. It would have been around the time that Hex Enduction Hour was occupying most of my listening time. I recall purchasing a selection of 12″ singles and the sole album and jealously reading of Bob and Jeff’s trips to London to see them, supporting The Fall of all people. On constant rotation at one point was the magnificent “Chevrolet Rise” which is up there in my 100 tunes of all time. Bob reported around 1985/6 seeing a new version of the band with Dave in a glittery show biz suit and moving in a different direction, and then they sort of wandered off my radar until Graney and Moore returned as Coral Snakes, White Buffaloes, and Coral Snakes again, but that’s a different story to be told elsewhere.

In 2003 it was pleasing to find out about “Two Fisted Art” a collection which covered the vast bulk of the bands recorded material. A Creation box set in 2016 would collect some rarities but that can be covered in a separate review. The history of the band is covered well in Nicholls’ aforementioned book, they get their own chapter, and rightly so. The Wikipedia entry is informative but I often feel there is more of a tale to tell about this important band.

What we have is music which fits well within the post-punk period, in that it moves on from the spirit and intent of punk, but doesn’t sit in the same camp, in the same way that The Fall, The Birthday Party, and Blue Orchids didn’t. It is completely unique and, sitting here thirty odd years later, it still retains the power to shock, and insists that you listen to it. What you have throughout is Moores’ insistent and busy drumming, a particularly unique bass guitar style from Chris Walsh, which Nicholls cites as a key part of the bands’ success, and importantly, guitar from Steve Miller and Mick Turner which is drawn from the blues, pre-punk, Zoot Horn Rollo, and, whispers of Craig Scanlon. What takes it above and beyond its contemporaries and allows it to retain its freshness are Dave Graney’s stream of consciousness lyrics and abstract vocal stylings, one part declamatory , one part Old Testament preacher in a carnival side show, and two parts rock ‘n’ roll icon.

“Two Fisted Art” is a good collection juxtaposing a disc of studio material with 19 tracks from various releases and the second disc of live versions recorded at the Sedition Festival and the Trade Union Club, Sydney April 1983., The Seaview Ballroom,St. Kilda on 21/12/84. and Dingwalls, London 16/7/85.

It is the songs that are perhaps the most important factor here. There are tunes in the collection which have stuck in my head for thirty years – the aforementioned “Chevrolet Rise”, “Frankies Negative” and the glorious “Runaway” and “Double Life”. All of these and many others in this collection shaped the way I listened to music for a long time afterwards. It was possible to use the bass as a lead instrument, Graney’s almost Kerouac like outpourings a manifesto for how to treat lyrics differently, the twin guitar attack which informed the way I approached  the instrument. A truly influential band.

Of great annoyance is the unfortunate revelation that I missed their gig at the Hacienda, which is fortunately captured  on video.   There are also some songs missing from this collection, the perhaps more accessible “Kept Spectre” and the other two tracks from the A side of “Engine Shudder” in particular. Also only “Someone’s Got To Give” is featured from the final EP from 1987.   There’s also video from London in 1984   which can be streamed on Amazon or purchased as a DVD if you search hard enough. Perhaps it will be time one day to collect the whole lot in a box set of some kind?

An important band, unfavourably compared with The Birthday Party at the time, they were as alike as chalk and cheese musically, the only thing that required comparison was the Melbourne connection. As I say, still as fresh today, and still as stimulating as when I first heard them.

Some sort of Discography for the band

  1. “Where the Trees Walk Down Hill” (October 1981) – Au Go Go Records
  2. “Gone Dead” (June 1982) – Au Go Go Records
  3. “The Disciples Know” (1983) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  4. Engine Shudder (1983) – Au Go Go Records
  5. Thirsty’s Calling (April 1984) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  6. “Runaway” (1984) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  7. “Enough Legs to Live On” (1985) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  8. Double Life (1985) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  9. Justice and Money Too (August 1985) – Creation Records
  10. Take the Red Carpet out of Town (October 1985) – TIM Records, Time/Abstract
  11. The Moodists (February 1986) – TIM Records, Time/Abstract
  12. Two Fisted Art (2003) – W. Minc
  13. The Moodists – Live in London 1984 (2004) – Peacock Records
  14. Creation Artifact Box Set (2016) – Cherry Red (Creation Singles plus a Peel Session from 10th July 1985)

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The Necks – Unfold

Heavens above, a Necks album with more than one track. What is the world coming to?

I wrote several months back about seeing them at the Band on the Wall, and indeed there are echoes of that gig here. The arco bass, the busy, chittering, percussion, the romantic melodies spilling out from the piano. The difference here is the use of other keyboards to fill out the sound, Abrahams tends to use them as an ambient wash, or a measured  background feature, or on one track, replacing the piano completely.

Opener “Rise” does reflect the recent BOTW gig more than the rest of selections. The disparate, yet inclusive, three elements of the sound develop organically over fifteen minutes. Abrahams almost seems to be searching for the melody on this keyboard, and it is a restless exploration. Buck fills in the corners with a combination of what sounds like mutant castanets, and probing snare/tom statements. Swanton creates unworldly noises that weave in between the melody and the percussion. I imagine a Samuel Beckett play transformed into a musical form would sound like this. It builds to a frenetic, approaching manic, high with Buck dominating and taking the lead role as the piano falls away.

Track 2 “Overhear” retains the percussive motif of the opener, Abrahams leads on what sounds like a Hammond, and Swanton provides a bowed pulse in the background. It has that eerie sound Bo Hansson captured on his “Lord of the Rings” album. There’s an unrelenting hypnotic churning rhythm, as Abrahams delivers flurries of notes, that almost moves into a rock rhythm towards the latter end of the piece. Again it builds to a crescendo.

“Blue Mountain” is next, a little less abstract than the usual Necks construction. There is sense of some sort of preconceived shape for a while at least, but this does eventually develop into something more ethereal. Bucks brush and cymbal work is exceptional, piano dominates but there is an underlying Hammond element. Swanton is not so evident until a few minutes in when the bowed bass creates a restless counterpoint to the piano melody. After that it us pure Necks improvisation with sections of intense sound as the bass becomes a percussion instrument and the twin keyboards fight for space against a cinematic backdrop from the array of the other percussion devices.

The album concludes with the longest track, at 21 minutes, “Timepiece”. We are into more familiar free improv territory at the outset. Buck makes his kit sound like running water, or an alarm clock (hence the title I assume), Abrahams drops shimmering notes, Swanton plucks an occasional note, or a harmonic. It gently feels it’s way through an abstract jungle of sounds, with Buck perhaps the most dominant. Completely unique in that entrances this listener in a way that other improv does not in that it is reflective of what has gone before. There is no precedent or template for this music, other than prior Necks releases.

No doubt that people who cannot abide this sort of thing will come out with the usual “when does the tune start” comment, and therein lies the philosophy of this band, there is melody, percussion, and rhythm but it is completely unique, expect the unexpected.

The bonus of this, if one were needed, is that here is a Necks release I can feature in the podcasts without any editing.

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Are you sitting comfortably?

Michael, known for the purposes of this exercise, as m.t.scott, has been sending me the developing elements of this release for many months. Therefore I am well versed in the process that has led to a simply marvellous 22 minutes of thought-provoking and enjoyable music. Those who know and love Staggs will recognise the voice, the acerbic tone, the sardonic wit, the world weary observations of the minutiae of day to day existence. “13 Queer Street” moves inexorably on from “The Broken EP” taking hints and directions from that also excellent piece of work, and building to a modern masterpiece.

There are six songs, all different, but conversely all couched in an overarching atmospheric patina which suggests a post-war living room with a bakelite wireless, or black & white TV,  and the smell of steak & kidney pie and jam sponge & custard a mere breath away. Things are constrained, almost claustrophobic at times, and at the same time stretch to places only promised in the previous release. Whether it be gangsters, a girl in gabardine mac and a head-scarf, distorted crooners, snippets of found sound, a distant saxophone, guitars with lengthy sustain, or brittle string parts, there are so many different and interesting things to listen to here that you find yourself playing the EP on a constant loop.

Scott builds layers of sound to create cinematic experiences, each song a vignette, a short story, but  suggesting a much wider, deeper and more complex tale. The tour de force is the impressive “Touched By A Leper” which comes close to previous subject matter, and  is blessed by restrained saxophone, and understated guitar, together with a memorable set of words. Equally as good is the plaintive “Six Feet Deep” a closing track that begs a follow up release as soon as possible.

Some of the themes and concepts hinted at in Staggs releases come to the fore here, demonstrating Scott’s genius at creating musical constructs. They are more than songs, they are stories, a glimpse of an alternative world, a treasured paperback book which brings back childhood memories, a look through a fractured piece of glass into a different place.

Comparisons are impossible, this is unique. But there is a sense of the shock of the new when hearing Tuxedomoon’s early albums, a taste of Brechtian opera, the word play of Robert Ashley, sunday afternoon kitchen sink dramas on BBC Radio in the early 60s, and post-punk experimentation.

Released on German Shepherd Records on Friday 2nd December, this is one of my highlights of the year.

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No Lampshades Sold Here

A new album from the utterly fabulous Monkeys in Love.

Joy abounds.

It’s called “Live In New Stoke Newington” and to quote the band “It’s a non-linear concept LP about gentrification and that sort of thing”. It comprises nine tracks in total, all of them corkers. It’s not a live album, to make things clear.

The twin vocal line up of Laura and Steve, as usual, are the focus of matters. It’s relentless, enjoyable “alternative pop”, crammed with hooks and ear-worms, no doubt influenced, in part, by the bands’ love of library music. The easy narrative style is backed by  rolling and tumbling rhythms and jangling guitars topped off by cheeky little synths. It feels like all those great tunes that came with pre-millennial TV adverts mixed with superior song craft.

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This is the Monkeys in Love sound growing into something new and reaching a maturity that was promised by their previous releases. The attention to detail and the honing of their music into quality product makes this their best work to date.

We kick off with the excellent “Infantalised Man” which puts a strong marker down for what is to follow, Laura pulls you in a with lovely melody, and Steve grabs you by the ears and shakes you around with his trademark  biting rap/rant vocalising.  “In Stoke Newington” is all 70s rhythms, think Norman Greenbaum backing Adam the Ants, fronted by The Carpenters, but fed through a blender to take it to a different time continuum

“Validate Me” is pure Monkeys, with Laura cracking up over the lyrics half way through, and sexy little synth arpeggiating in the background, with some beautifully placed drum drops. Pure pop heaven. “At New Vortex” is a tale of experiences in music/art venues which should be recognisable to those who have experienced the worst excesses of some performance spaces, a close neighbour, sonically, to Curved Airs seminal”Back Street Luv” the track is rich with lots of little musical tricks. Indifference and lack of wages is the bane of some of the best bands out there, this tune captures that sense of despair admirably.

The exceptional “Cocaine Radius” is the high point for me and feels like something from the 60s, dreamed up by Bert Bacharach, that would fit in with a hip road movie. Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, or someone of that ilk, driving around L.A. in fancy car, with the Mamas and Papas singing in the back seat, in a glorious sunset, came to mind as I was listening. The perfect placement of Danielle’s flute and Steve and Laura’s  vocals is simply glorious. At their best Monkeys in Love make me smile, and their very best they bring tears of joy to my eyes. This is one of the latter. Steely Dan were nearly as good as this once.

“Bar Furniture Solutions” allows Eamonn’s full guitar sound to take the lead, lyrically clearly the influence of listening to hours of corporate advertising music have had some influence, with the rolling narrative taking you on a journey around eponymous subject matter, and yes you can make a tale about bar furniture interesting. They don’t sell lampshades in this particular emporium apparently. Only this band can do this and make it something special.

Things get more serious with the heavier sound of “How The Scene Was Blown” which is insistent and the one track on the album which takes a little longer to get into, but once you are there it works. The sumptuous “Stasi Broke The Hive Mind” is back to Bacharach country, easy on the ear, and gentle on the mind.

Matters conclude with “New Stoke Newington Has Been Transformed” clocking in at just under six minutes it’s a memorable epic piece which requires a lot of attention to absorb the detailed narrative. The thing that captivates me about this album is the use of the vocals as instrumentation. Yes the lyrics, and there are plenty of them, are important, but just as vital is the placement of the vocals as part of the overall musical palette.  With no overall discernible lead instrument they take on a unique, non-traditional role in a rock ‘n’ roll context, which could be compared with the use of voices in classical operatic works as both vehicles of the narrative but also part of the complex interplay of instruments.

2016 has proved to be a year of excellent music and this is one of the high points. There was one front runner for album of the year before this arrived. There are now two.

If you get it before the release date on 25th November you can get it at a reduced price with some goodies thrown in – go here

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Previous writing on this band can be found here and here and here

 

1000 JAZZ ALBUMS YOU REALLY OUGHT TO HEAR – 0005 : JOHN COLTRANE – COLTRANE “LIVE” AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD

Impulse

1962 (CD)

  • John Coltrane — soprano saxophone on “Spiritual” and “Softly As In Morning Sunrise”; tenor saxophone on “Spiritual” and “Chasin’ the Trane”
  • Eric Dolphy — bass clarinet on “Spiritual”
  • McCoy Tyner — piano on side one
  • Reggie Workman — bass on side one
  • Jimmy Garrison — bass on side two
  • Elvin Jones — drums

Subsequently re-emerging  as part of a mammoth box set of Coltrane’s four night residency at the famous New York Club this one really split the critical crowd when it was released. In hindsight Coltrane’s explorations, over lengthy tunes, seem relatively benign in comparison with what was to follow, not only  from the man himself, but also a whole sub-genre of avant-garde and free improvisation which may well have been prompted by these music endeavors. The critical response at the time was extremely negative in parts, which perhaps says more about the music writing establishment of the early 60s than it does about ‘Trane.

Three performances were selected for this initial release from the four nights of recordings.  The standard, by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II “Softly as in Morning Sunrise”, plus a second entitled “Spiritual”, possibly an adaptation of the traditional “Nobody Knows de Trouble I See”. The third selection, the sixteen minute trio blues “Chasin’ the Trane”, has been described as one of the most important recordings in jazz combining  free jazz, jamming, and neoclassicism.

In it’s own right this release stands out as one of the most refreshing jazz recordings of all time. Even over 50 years later it still has the capacity to shock the listener. When put in the context of all of four nights it becomes a fascinating exploration of a musician looking for new avenues of expression. Coltrane indicates that he was following the lead of Sun Ra horn player John Gilmore when developing this music and its worth while tracking down contemporary material from Gilmore to hear the comparison.

An essential listen for anyone who wants to understand the impact of Coltrane on the world of jazz.

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1000 JAZZ ALBUMS YOU REALLY OUGHT TO HEAR – 0004 : DAVE DOUGLAS – THE INFINITE

RCA

2002 (CD)

  • Dave Douglas: trumpet
  • Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
  • Uri Caine: Fender Rhodes
  • James Genus: bass
  • Clarence Penn: drums

His 19th album proved to be a landmark, in no small part down to the stellar line-up assembled for the set.

Recorded over three days on December 16–18, 2001 at Avatar Studios, New York City, and including three eclectic covers of tunes by Rufus Wainwright, Bjork and Mary J. Blige, Douglas explores that Miles Davis inspired gap between post-bop and fusion first heard in 1968. To some degree there is a parallel, especially in band configuration, with the second great Davis quintet, and at times you could be listening to “Miles In The Sky” and to some extent “Filles De Kilimanjaro”. Caine’s use of the Fender Rhodes is a bit of a give-away in this respect. However by the same token in terms of structure and feel there is a nod back to the “Birth of the Cool Sessions” (“Boplicity” gets referenced in the lengthy track “Penelope”), and forward to “In A Silent Way”.  Douglas can include a European feel into a lot of his work and to some extent that input stops the album from being a direct Miles pastiche.

Overall then this is a Douglas album and a clear indicator of a mammoth body of work that was to follow. Douglas brings the best out of his band and Potter is in some of his best form and the leader at his most lyrical. The three pop-tunes on the album are radically re-engineered to the extent that they feel like brand new compositions. Overall this to my mind is one of his best albums although the critical reaction was not as strong as it was for the preceding “Witness” which I always felt was too wound up in the polemical undertone of the material.

The quintet would return two years later with “Strange Liberation” and a lot of the material on the album would turn up in the mammoth 12 CD set “Live at the Jazz Standard” albeit with Donny McCaslin replacing Potter. This then is the entry point for some of his most successful work and a good place to start if his music is new to you.

Next year there would be yet another change in direction with the more fusion oriented “Freak In” demonstrating his relentless quest for new forms of expression. The only other release in 2002 was as a sideman for Patricia Barber’s “Verse” album.

Exceptional modern jazz, beautifully played which both references the history of the music but sets markers for future development.

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1000 Jazz Albums You Really Ought To Hear – 0003 : Jimmy Giuffre Trio – Free Fall

Columbia Legacy

1962 (vinyl)/1999(CD)

  • Jimmy Giuffre – Clarinet
  • Paul Bley – Piano
  • Steve Swallow – Double Bass

In the early 1960s the contemporaries to this album, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, were reinventing jazz in their own inimitable way, usually more brutal, often spiritual, and sometimes political. Giuffre’s approach to the music came from a totally different perspective than his peers. This is an album of considered, introspective, and often gentle music. It could be described as “freely improvised chamber jazz”.

This album has been cited as one of the most revolutionary recordings to come out of the 1960s. It was largely ignored when it was first released, hindsight reveals it to be a ground-breaking masterpiece.

Giuffre  created  a “microtonal” revolution ignored by other avant-gardists in jazz at the time. On “Free Fall”, Giuffre,  Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow embarked on a voyage even farther-reaching than their previous albums , reaching a creative peak with this recording.

The new approach was delivered through “pointillistic” harmony, whereby different musical notes are made in seclusion, rather than in a linear sequence, this is supported by open-toned playing, and phrasing using slight variations; through this method,  new platforms for solo or group improvisation are realised.

The original album comprised five clarinet solos, two duets for clarinet and bass, and three trio pieces. The CD reissue added five more clarinet solos to the set.

This album establishes Giuffre as a master of the idiom of, not only jazz free improvisation, but also as a ground breaking  interpreter of musical language. This is language that was originally utilised by the ancient Greeks and, developed in the 19th and 20th Century by the likes of Feldman, Stockhausen and Debussey.  Microtonal music has since been adopted by the likes of Wendy Carlos, Aphex Twin and Radiohead, as well as a large school of european free jazz players.

Giuffre’s solo clarinet pieces  are exercises in layering. Unique phrasing is used to create new sounds.  The group interactions intertwine chromatic pointillism between one instrument and the next, without relying on the conventions of harmony, rhythm, or melody.

Free Fall was such radical music, no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly after it’s release.

The album presents a series of captivating explorations which require concentration but deliver a unique listening experience. Often melancholic, sometimes brisk and startling, the overall feel of the album is both measured and exploratory.

Quietly revolutionary this music was the culmination of the “Third Stream” movement and also paved the way for a younger generation of radicals, especially within the European jazz scene.