Dunce Confederacy

There’s a point towards the end of the Lords of Zubos album “The trouble with Paté”, i.e. the release that precedes this one I am going to talk about here,  where John Rowley berates John Senior and his brother Mike plus Paul Hogg for spending two years messing around, getting stoned and creating a muddled mess. There’s some validity in that tongue in cheek badinage as,  whilst the Zubos album is a sometimes confused, sometimes suspect, melange  of Firesign Theatre like surreal theatrical snippets, its successor “Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels)” takes the bones of that experimentation and transforms their work method into a collection that transcends comparison with any other contemporary releases in 2018, and stands as a unique piece of art and music regardless of the year. The Zubos album ought to be heard in advance of the Aliens album as it, despite its sometimes worryingly laddish humour, creates a framework with which to listen to the latest release.

Hull has a fine track record of producing good music. Last year I was taken on a between pub trip around the City Centre by some locals who introduced me to the rich history of the cities musical heritage which is not all about Mick Ronson despite rumours you may have heard to the contrary. Of late Warren Street Records, and Lou Duffy Howard and her various projects, and the annual Humber Street sessions have continued to cement the Hull reputation with a rich vein of material. Bands like Life, Loudhailer Electric Company, El Whaeko, La Bête Blooms, EMBRS, and  The Evil Litter are all fine examples of what Hull is delivering at the moment. Add to that list Ten Million Aliens.

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of  John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex-guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars (of which the aforementioned Lou was the bass player). The duo remains largely unknown outside of their local music scene and has worked together for years on some fascinating studio projects including the aforementioned Lords of Zubos and more recently a similarly fascinating and fantastic album “On The Beach” which features the late Eddie Smith. Senior has recently remixed one of the bands on the German Shepherd record label – The Mind Sweepers.

With the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar, they have taken matters to another level from Lords of Zubos with this new album.

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There must have been some degree of pre-cognition in play when the album was started two years ago as some of the subject matter covered eerily mirrors and reflects Trump’s current Republican base with chilling accuracy. It also echoes, to some degree, John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces”, in that it lays bare some of the more absurd and obsessive elements of American culture. I was pondering a while back as to why there was not a current protest movement in the music biz which reflected the state of things in both this country and the States. To some degree, this album covers that gap. It also strikes me that this album is a musical counterpart to the visual art of Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, an America which is both familiar and alien.

The opening “A Confederacy of Fools” mirrors the Toole novel in both title and content by exposing the partisan simplicity of the dialogue of the right, and indeed the far right. The music reflects the place and is wonderful, the words reflect some rather worrying thought processes that have been given a wider stage by the orange man-baby of late.  The puerile arguments against countries that play “soccer” instead of “proper” football (i.e. American) is both chilling and hilarious.

It’s not all about politics mind you, there is a heartfelt tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis via “The Killer” which collates some remarkable comments from the great man. Americas tortured history with regard to race discrimination is forensically examined with “Long Time Coming”  which is brutal but captured beautifully in a remarkable piece of music which is reminiscent of John Zorn’s cut-up technique used on “The Big GunDown.  The remarkable “Soul Food” is a hilarious take-down of American Food Culture which would turn any dedicated meat eater into a vegan overnight.

“Cuban Nights” cheekily borrows an Afro-Cuban jazz motif to contain the story of The Bay of Pigs crisis and the chilling time of the Cold War in the early 60s. “Rocket Clank Clank” starts off with Jeff Tracy and then embarks on a trip around 50s sci-fi movies with a Nuggets-style vibe. Any track which includes my favourite movie “Forbidden Planet” and Star Trek TOS is always going to get my vote, that they launch into a post-punk hook in parts of the song is both baffling and fascinating. “From A Buick 8” centres on both American car culture and the advertising industry of that country with a bluesy piano work-out. “Cops and Robbers” adopts a Bill Burroughs/Brion Gysin cut-up technique by marrying cop-show funk with a seemingly random series of excerpts from tv and film, Senior’s piano on this track is particularly fine. “Dust to Dust” provides a jazzy interlude with spacey guitar and reflects elements of American history. Like a lot of the music on the album seemingly incongruous found sounds float around to create a feel which reminds me of the work of Hal Willner (particularly his Charles Mingus hommage “Weird Nightmare”). The brilliant “Don’s Guns” takes a George Clinton/Bootsy Collins/James Brown riff and morphs into a guitar/organ Jimmy Smith style freakout while tuning into various sounds from Nixon, Reagan through to Quinn Martin via various other destinations before commenting on the current Second Amendment debate which bedevils the USA.  “Bound for Glory” reflects the Trump presidency before embarking on a fractured journey from Bill Black/Scotty Moore to Mary Halvorson via techno and hi-life. The musical hooks here are intelligently constructed. Obama’s hopeful message is left hanging as the train whistle blows. The plaintive closer “Mr Tangerine Man” which quotes John F’.. Kennedy, and 9/11 disaster, and other key moments,  before getting into the utterances of the latest incumbent of the Presidency is sanguine food for thought and the perfect closer to an album full to the brim with outstanding creativity.

I unreservedly recommend this album to you as one of the most outstanding pieces of work I have heard. The irony is, I guess, that it took a couple of guys from Hull to make one of the boldest statements about America in a long long time.

Parts of the Lords of Zubos album can be streamed here but I suggest you acquire the whole thing as there is a narrative which runs through the complete set.

More info and shop here – http://ten-million-aliens.co.uk/

Many thanks to John Rowley and John Senior for their generosity and special thanks to Brad Cain for bringing the album to my attention in the first place.

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There’s still some good new music out there….

I’m reconciled to the fact, that due to other commitments, there is probably only going to be one of these every month. Too many distractions prevent focused writing. However, a plethora of excellent new albums have inspired this peroration, and it’s good to share. In one way or another, the releases featured in this blog will find their way into the Aural Delights Radio Show. I offer this information in the hope you might find something interesting to listen to that you might otherwise not be aware of. It might also tempt you to listen to the show. A pleasant aural distraction while you are doing the ironing or whatever.

Such is the nature of music accessibility these days that I am swamped on a daily basis by new releases and keeping up is almost a full-time job.  But I should not complain, I recall the early days of Sounds and looking longingly at the Virgin Records advert in the rear of said august inky news-sheet and wondering how I could ever possibly afford to purchase the likes of Ars Longa Vita Brevis by The Nice,

I digress.

Let’s start with TFS or to give them their full name Tropical Fuck Storm, which is also the name of their record label. Their debut album “A Laughing Death in Meatspace” is remarkable. Emerging from the Drones (the Australian version thereof not the Manc Punkers) the line-up is  Gareth Liddiard guitar and vocals and Fiona Kitschin bass (The Drones), Lauren Hammel (High Tension) on drums and Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Harmony) on guitars, keys and other gadgets. How do you follow up from the excellent last album from The Drones? Well with this amalgam of modern rock music. Liddiard’s laconic vocal style dominates and he has great lyrics. The use of guitars is as always with Liddiard’s work a key feature but is the repetition and layering and song construction that marks this out as a ground-breaking release. The music moves through a variety of types of rock and blues but those conventions of genre don’t do justice to what emerges from this album There are strong elements of rap/urban delivery that seep into the murky corners of rock to create a singular sound. Highly recommended and a strong contender for album of the year.

I find a lot of new music by listening to community radio, there are some great DJs out there and Brad Cain and Dave Hammond are two of the best. Brad works out of Nevis FM once every couple of weeks and is also syndicated to Radio Kaos in Austin Texas. There is a lot of crossover between what Dave, Brad and I do and you’ll often find some similarities between show playlists. A recent show from Brad featured some fascinating music by a band called Ten Million Aliens. They have an album out called “Road Trip (Fall Of The Rebel Angels)”.

I may as well nick their bio from the webpage as it articulates more efficiently than I can about this album

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of musical Übermensch John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars. While they are largely unknown outside of their local musical orbit, the pair have worked together for years on some fantastic studio projects including the legendary Lords of Zubos and recently the superb album “On The Beach” from the sadly missed Eddie Smith. Now with the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar they have taken it up to another level. Their collective musical credentials over the years include studio and support slots with hundreds of bands from The Smiths, Radiohead, The La’s, Cast, Pulp, Kingmaker, and the Bhundu Boys to The Voice runner up Sally Barker.

The album Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels) has taken two years to complete from inception to master and all the years of studio and live experience of this trio have been pulled together and condensed into the super massive black hole that is their magnificent masterwork. Senior is a simply unstoppable tsunami of musical ideas and improvisational dexterity playing in a bewildering patchwork of styles to create a roller coaster ride into the rotten belly of a dystopian America that has just arrived with perfect timing.

They could never have imagined when they started laying down the tracks two years ago that today America would actually be re living the civil rights struggles and nuclear sabre rattling of the 60s headed up by an orange man/baby who informs his world through Fox News and Twitter.

So what you have in broad terms is the amalgamation of,   sometimes frightening, spoken word from Trumpists, with american musical styles to create an almost cinematic aural confection which both astounds and gives pause for thought. I was reminded of the work of producer Hal Wilner (especially his Mingus/Harry Partch album Weird Nightmare) in the construction and format. It is an astonishing album, both in terms of uncovering some of the dark elements of the American Dream but in its use of that countries music to deliver its message. Again another strong contender for album of the year.

Finding out about The Red Propellers has been difficult. They don’t appear to have penetrated the Google-sphere to any great extent as yet. They appear to be from Bristol or maybe Stroud in Gloucestershire.  They have an album out called “The Fragility of Love: Collected Works” which is stunning.  Vocalist James Dick appears to be channelling either Lennie Bruce or Jim Morrison in many ways but also takes it past the Lizard King ,to an evangelical preacher level indulging in MES style rants with some fervour. There’s also a bit of early VU about them. The band delivers a surging, bubbling, almost funky blues rock bed over which Dick delivers complex and impressive vocal tirades. Three of the tracks on the album come from an EP called “Images” which was released in 2016.

As can be seen from the below guitarist David McEvoy can also create some more off-kilter experimental sounds. I can’t find something from the album to embed but you can track it down on Spotify, Deezer and the like. The live track below is a good indication of what to expect. A remarkable band.