Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

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Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

Naked Guitar HI Res

“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

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Dean Ford “Feel My Heartbeat” Album Review

 

Dean Ford Releases New Solo Album “Feel My Heartbeat”

By Dale Nickey

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/30/16 – In 1969 a Scottish group named The Marmalade hit the charts in a big way with their Top Three ballad, “Reflections of My Life”. It was a melancholic look back at life, sung by a young singer/songwriter who had not yet lived it. The singer was Dean Ford (Born Thomas McAleese). The Marmalade made their splash and suffered the fate of many entrants into the 60’s sweepstakes. They had a couple of hits and faded into history, only to return sporadically on oldies radio, the odd soundtrack or the occasional K-Tel compilation. Continue reading

Jandek releases new CD – Dublin Friday

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek ?  >>> Houston ThursBrussels Sat / St. Louis Fri

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JANDEK – Dublin Friday (CD)

Corwood Industries (0820)

 

Word salad surgery…

Corwood Industries has just released Dublin Friday – a live acoustic set of guitar/vocal pieces, I have given up trying to read logic into Jandek’s release schedule. This performance dates back to June 11, 2008. The venue is The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin Ireland. As of late, Corwood’s releases tend to hopscotch back and forth in time without any explanation or pattern.

Dublin Friday seems a companion work to Houston Saturday (2011), which employed the same solo acoustic format. Indeed, Corwood included a DVD version of the Houston performance (along with Dublin Friday) in its latest care package to this reviewer, so it’s clear they see the linkage as well. However, where Houston Saturday (2011) was a song cycle totally in thrall to lust, love and human connection, Dublin Friday is totally absent any sentimentality, romance or emotion. If it were a book, I would describe it as an eight chapter novella set in a Kafkaesque parallel universe of the mind. Or perhaps, Finnegan’s Wake on Ambien.

On Dublin Friday, It’s tough to gauge how much of the lyric content is composed or extemporized. It’s apparent The Representative has stockpile of phrases and images preloaded – while at the same time – his delivery suggests a cut and paste methodology. Evocative phrases are delivered in random order with no consideration to narrative. There are times you can hear Jandek trying to stay a step ahead of himself, reshuffling his mental deck on the fly. The songs on Dublin Friday (as do many of Jandek’s compositions) occupy the nether region between automatic writing and conventional song craft. At this performance, Jandek’s internal clock set set between seven and nine minutes per piece. Only Part Seven deviates from this time frame, coming in at 5:41.

The Representative of Corwood Industries has dispensed with song titles for this release. Instead, we get eight selections titled “Part One”, “Part Two”…etc. However, the eight selections scan like segmented parts of a conceptual whole.

That being said, Dublin Friday is a strong and involving set. Jandek ‘the man’ keeps reviewers at arms distance, so the intent and motivation behind this set of non-stop, non-sequiturs will forever be open to conjecture.

 

What follows is a track-by-track analysis of the songs found on Dublin Friday:

Part One – A protracted and meandering guitar introduction paints a desolate musical landscape. What follows is a clutch of lyric snippets that stop and start maddeningly. Short unfinished phrases cut and pasted together. Example: “You see the general terms basking in the gentle hues. To make things clear, he said nothing.”

Part Two – A delicate, pin-prick guitar intro precedes more florid word play. Part Two describes abandoned journeys and thoughts inadequately expressed. Jandek seems trapped in some kind of emotional stasis. The Reps guitar work is active and possesses a harmonic logic that reveals itself only to those willing to invest in repeated listens. Sample lyric: “He said nothing enthralled by demeanor, ravished by the movement of hands…”

Part Three – This selection promises something more in the realm of a structured narrative. But, that’s just a come-on. Musically; The Rep is exploring richer, darker tones than he did in Part Two. However, no threads are maintained. Example: “Tell me I’m not mistaken by the holocaust of vision, the break-up of a sentence. It’s only that…I mean. It’s all so obvious.” Oh, is it?

Part Four – Some recognizable harmonic motifs threaten to emerge throughout this piece but are ultimately stillborn. After some introductory improvisation, the artist finally intones, “The cacophony of gestures, flew about like secret symbols, or martial arts chopping phrases, into bits of a conundrum.” The guitar work throughout Dublin Friday is oddly appealing and involving. Later in the piece, The Representative expresses his desire for a ‘box of surprises’. The Representative demonstrates a command of subtle dynamics throughout the piece. Nice ritard ending.

Part Five – Part Five starts off with some clacky single string work, Jandek continues to toss his existential word salad… “Imbued with his blustery bellow, and his promenade of gestures like a floating benevolent cloud that captures your imagination when you’ve nothing to do.” A fairly symmetrical song structure ultimately reveals itself as the vocal verses alternate with guitar breaks that further explores the wild, interval leaps in the songs intro. So far each piece seems to have its own musical identity. However lyrically, entropy and confusion still reign supreme; or to quote The Representative, “To interrupt this madness would be catastrophic”.

Part Six – At this juncture, Jandek’s limited harmonic palette begins to reveal itself. However, despite the musical groping and meandering, interesting motifs continue poke their head out into the light, then wither and recede just as quickly as they came. Instrumentally, this piece less busy and employs descending lines in lieu of the nihilistic noodling of the previous piece. Again, the landscape is strewn with faceless people, saying nothing and revealing nothing. The narrator’s use of evocative phraseology only succeeds in plunging the listener further into the dark.

Part Seven – A guitar intro mines the lower registers of the instrument. “You simply must understand. Let’s begin where it all started. All is agreed. I will not repeat. The conviction pierced fleshly barriers of sound.” Elsewhere: “He said nothing, and they acted like he was saving the world”. As with all the selections on this CD, the song’s conclusion is met with pregnant silence followed by sustained, reverential applause.

Part Eight – On this, the final song, Jandek’s amps up the adrenaline, strums a little harder and gets a tad more bellicose. Unidentified people are saying nothing. In fact, this entire eight part odyssey could well be summarized by the phrase. “My heart is shaken by this witness, he said nothing.”

Upon first hearing, Dublin Friday exhibits the familiar traits that have denied Jandek a mass audience for decades. The cold, brackish exterior will forever scare off the casual listener.

It makes sense that music journalists are the most fervent ambassadors of his work. We are forced to pro-actively listen to this music as part of our job, and it’s in these requisite, repeat listens that Jandek music begins to reveal its layers. Despite first impressions, this is not throwaway bullshit. Neither is it pop craft. It’s something different; and I’m relieved to say, it’s as honest and purposeful as any music currently being created. We can come along for the ride or not. Jandek will never thank you for coming. He plays, and we either show up or stay home. The Representative is one of the few musical artists who understands art shouldn’t give a shit and it doesn’t apologize. The muse just issues forth its nectar or poison from its pustule or pod when it no longer can be contained. A work such as Dublin Friday allows us to witness the act of creation with without filters. It’s not entertainment. It’s pure spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANDEK – “Los Angeles Saturday” (DVD Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

DVD Cover

Jandek – “Los Angeles Saturday” (DVD)

Corwood Industries (0819)

 

Jandek’s Hollywood Premier… 

Jandek has just released his latest work “Los Angeles Saturday”, a DVD of his first Los Angeles performance on May 24, 2014. A special performance to me personally, as I was there to witness the event. Press credentials allowed me to crouch at the corner of the stage three feet away from The Representative of Corwood Industries. I was in closer physical proximity to the man than anybody else in attendance.

So, I have a unique perspective from which to judge the merits of the DVD presentation. It was pro shot with one center camera, alternating with shots originating from the right front corner of the stage. The same area I happened to be shooting stills and video footage of my own. Which is to say, many of the side angle shots reveal the exact view that I had at the corner of the stage.

What this DVD strains to capture is the vibe. That unquantifiable ambiance informed by smell, temperature, humidity, lighting, chatter and ingested substances. I suspect all of Jandek’s live DVD’s are absent this dimension, as are most filmed performances of live music.

Corwood Industries allowed me to interview band members but not The Representive of Corwood Industries himself; and it was in my interview with band member Kris Bernard that I discovered the musicians contracted for this gig (Kris Bernard and Emily Curren) had never played on stage before. Moreover, they had never played musical instruments of any kind before their induction into the ensemble. This fact was fascinating and revealing. But, a fact that never would have seen the light of day had your intrepid reporter not investigated. My interview with Kris Bernard revealed how Jandek transcends (or bypasses) the conventions of human music making. Moreover, the music this night sounded just as “Jandekian” as music performed by seasoned musicians on other records and performances.

So here, I republish my original impressions of the concert for your consideration. The inside information revealed here may (in part) contribute to your experience viewing the DVD. Included is a transcript of my phone interview with band member, Kris Bernard.

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Jandek Live at The Echo – Los Angeles (May 24, 2014)

Imagine you find yourself in the ultimate dystopian incarnation of Los Angeles. Blade Runner come to life. A societal structure beyond the control of those who inhabit it. A basic social infrastructure still exits, although it’s unraveling daily. You still have paper currency, markets to buy food and goods, and if you travel to the darker, stranger recesses of the city, Art. Someplace, somewhere in a disintegrating megalopolis of 10 million, a band plays in a dank, dark temple of song, conjoined in the sacred audience/performer covenant. However, what band is this? And, what kind of music would they be playing?

Those were the pictures my mind painted while observing the dark and intense set by Jandek on a balmy Los Angeles Saturday. The Representative of Corwood Industries has not yet exhausted of his bag of tricks. He gifted us with a desperately energetic band of three women which produced a joyful noise laced with estrogen and innocence at ear splitting volume. The dark stage and club ambiance contributed to the illusion of being part of a very exclusive secret society. It was a thing to behold.

After the original performance venue, “The Church On York” lost its permit, The Jandek performance went off as scheduled at the The Echoplex. The club was jammed with several hundred Jandekophiles. And, if my informal straw poll is accurate, the demographic of the typical Angeleno Jandek enthusiast skews decidedly towards anglo, polite, attractive, educated late-20’s to early 30’s Alternative music fans. Good demo for Jandek, bad news for the barkeep, who saw precious little activity at the watering hole. Of course, the seven dollar draft beers might have been a deterrent as well.

The common topic of pre-show conversation revolved around which Jandek would show up. Would he perform solo? Would he go ambient for a two hour stretch? Or, would he improvise on electric guitar atonally as he did on the live album “Houston Saturday”? To say there was a pre-gig buzz, would be an understatement. History was about to be made, if only for a cult of a few hundred.

Jandek rewarded us with a generous sampler of his various musical personalities. The big surprise was the appearance of lead singer/spoken word artist Sheila Smith. She was pretty much group spokesperson and focal point while The Representative hopscotched from instrument to instrument. However, the show opened with The Artist sitting on a stool at the front the stage armed with his acoustic guitar and his voice. No “Hello Los Angeles!” was offered by the artist or desired by the audience. In fact the club was dead silent while the artist fiddled interminably with a plastic bag of ‘who knows what’ to retrieve a suitable guitar pick. I saw Andres Segovia perform at the Dorothy Chandler pavilion in the seventies. That crowd was unruly by comparison. This portion of the show consisted of prepared and composed acoustic songs, “Whiling the Night Away” and “Hallway”. Both were effective and very well received.

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Jandek then put down the guitar and his charismatic female ensemble took over the stage. He grabbed the microphone and proceeded to engage in an improvised spoken word smack down with front lady Sheila Smith. The piece will probably end up with the title “I Got It” because the exchange revolved around who had what and why, although it was never specifically revealed what “it” precisely was. Smith played the role of “Da Rep’s” lust interest with sass and brio. Many in the audience wondered if the hormone drenched stagecraft on display was psycho-drama or the real deal. The Representative himself, was animated and engaged. He then strapped on a Fender Precision bass and more interplay with Smith ensued. This portion of the show was clearly performed without a net or prepared music. Jandek’s bass playing was inspired, energetic, and filled the room with his unique, harmonically ambiguous presence.

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Clearly, The Representative was relishing his role as The Zen Master of chaotic convergence. The third act of the set saw the artist sit behind the drum kit. The ensemble out front jammed and free associated while the man himself proved a capable –albeit idiosyncratic -skin beater.

The fourth and last act saw our hero strap on an electric guitar and lead his ensemble in a classic Jandekian demolition of all discernable melodic or harmonic structures. Then, too soon, it was over and the man in black left the stage and disappeared into the night. An encore was desired and called for, but we all knew The Representative would not engage in such a hackneyed Rock and Roll convention.

 

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After the concert, I had the opportunity to speak with multi-instrumentalist Kris Bernard. She was a member of Jandek’s ad-hoc ensemble convened exclusively for the L.A. performance. She played bass and drums. Her back story is nearly as compelling as the performance itself. Kris had never performed on stage before May 24, 2014, and even more remarkable, had no prior musical training or experience on any instrument at the time of her induction into the group.

 

Dale Nickey (DN): Before the gig, were you familiar with Jandek’s music?

Kris Bernard (KB): “I was, I have a couple of his records. How all this came to pass is, I played one of the records for my boyfriend. He basically had a reaction that I thought was funny, so I tweeted that.”

(DN): What was the tweet?

(KB): ‘I played a Jandek record for my boyfriend, he immediately hated it, mid-way through he said he wasn’t sure about it, and then by the end of side one he loved it.’ So I tweeted that”

 (DN): Which record was it?

(KB) “The Living End”

 (DN): How were you contacted for the gig?

(KB): “I was contacted on twitter by Sheila. She told me Jandek was going to be playing in L.A. I told her I was definitely going. Then, she asked me if I had any musical experience, and I said no. So I thought she wanted to form a band, not realizing she had any association with Jandek. I asked her where she lived in L.A., and she told me she lived in Houston. I still didn’t know what was happening. At a certain point, she told me she was going to form a band to play the same night as Jandek. I thought this was going to be an opening band. I didn’t know it was going to be Jandek.”

(DN): Had you ever had any musical experience before you got up onstage with Jandek?

(KB) “No. Well actually as soon as I found out about the show. I have a friend who gives music lessons, so I got three hours with him, with a guitar, a bass and on drums. But it was a very limited amount. And, I basically forgot everything since a month ago.”

 (DN) Remarkable, I would not have known you had zero experience as a musician.

(KB) “That’s good.”

 (DN) When you told Corwood that you had no musical experience, it didn’t matter?

(KB) “I think that was their preference.”

(DN): What do you do?

(KB) “I used to do web design, and now I’m project manager at a tech company.”

 (DN): As far as preparation, was there any rehearsal at all?

(KB): “No. I had anticipated there would be. We met at The Echo at 2:00 p.m. We waited a long time for the sound guys to get set up. Finally the sound guy went like, ‘do you guys want to try some of your instruments?’, At that point The Representative from Corwood said, ‘yeah, why not?’ Like it hadn’t been thought of before, But, because the sound guy suggested it, they’re like ‘OK, sure let’s do that’. So I picked up the electric violin and I just kinda started hacking away at that. And it sounded really rough. But that (sound-check) was basically the only thing we had other than a prepared set list which was not about songs, but just, ‘at this point you’ll work on this instrument, and at this point you’ll work on that one.’

(DN): No keys or riffs or anything like that?

(KB) “No, not at all (laughs).”

(DN): You mentioned your boyfriend, was he in the band at all?

(KB) “Yes Marcus Savino, he’s the one who played at the end.”

(DN): As regards free form music, it takes a certain fearlessness to stare down 300 people packed into a club. A lot of trained musicians won’t do it. Was there apprehension? Did you have to slam down a couple of Tequilas?

(KB): “Well, I definitely had some Tequila. But, I think, for me I was most comfortable on the drums. That was during the second set I played two songs on the drums. That was definitely my favorite part. At the third and fourth set, I was on bass. And the third set I was supposed to do some improv vocals and I don’t think I got anything out. So that was the least comfortable part for me.”

(DN): I don’t want to get tabloid, but with Sheila onstage, there was a lot of sexual energy or interplay with The Representative. Was that shtick, or was there something going on?

(KB): “I don’t know the workings of their relationship.”

 (DN): So you never met Sheila before the gig?

(KB) “No. Nor had I ever met Emily (Emily Curran)”

 (DN): Do you think you’ll ever meet Jandek again?

(KB): “I would be surprised. Although I am from Texas. And so, I think I’ll be in Houston sometime this year. I’ll definitely try to reach out, but I don’t know if it will result in anything.”

(DN): I want to get to the soul of the man. But I’m as interested as anybody else in preserving the mystique. Did he introduce himself to you as anybody?

(KB): “No. He didn’t actually introduce himself at all. At the point where there were introductions, he didn’t say a name at all. He just said hi. He was so nice. From what I’ve read from other press, he doesn’t refer to himself as Jandek at all, but instead, as The Representative. But he did not call himself that either.”

 (DN): I’ve heard he is well spoken.

(KB): “Yes.”

(DN): After the gig did you toast each other or say ‘Nice Job’ or anything?

(KB): “Yeah, when it was just the five of us up in the green room, the Representative seemed to be really pleased with it. He said it was one of the best shows.”

(DN) Did anyone mention that this show would be released on CD or DVD? Was it filmed?

(KB) “Yeah it was. So I think it will be released. That’s the sense I got.”

(DN): Now that this has happened, do you have any plans to pursue music?

(KB): “You know it’s funny, Marcus and I are together so I live with a drum set, but I’ve never played it ever. But it’s in my basement. I had so much fun with the drums, I think I’m gonna continue to play with it.”

 

The interview was winding down. Kris Bernard’s story was compelling. However, my desire to get inside the soul of the man was left unrequited. Then, before we rung off, Kris turned the tables and asked me a question……

 

(KB): “Can I tell you something he said before the show that I will probably have with me for the rest of my life?”

(DN): Absolutely.

(KB): “One thing the representative said to all of us was…‘there are no mistakes, if you think you made a mistake, go further into that mistake, and then it’s not a mistake.’

Click here to visit Corwood>>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/Z

Photos by DN

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Jandek on DVD – Houston Thursday

Authored by Dale Nickey:

DVDcoverart

 JANDEK “Houston Thursday”

Corwood Industries (0818)

Filmed live at Mango’s in Houston Texas – July 12, 2012

Prepare to get punked….

“Houston Thursday” sees The Representative of Corwood Industries (aka Jandek) getting down to his industrial-punk roots. In stark contrast to Jandek’s recent trend towards extended compositions; “Houston Thursday” is a taut, no nonsense sprint through 16 songs. The majority of the numbers clock in at under three minutes with only the final track (Glass Boxes) breaking the four minute mark at a tolerable 09:37.

Don not attempt to adjust your screen at the start of this DVD. The opening image is an indistinct (but intentional) blur that had me fiddling with my remote. However, once we gain admittance to the venue, the videography reveals itself to be creative and mood appropriate. Front woman Sheila Smith is the visual focal point of this performance. Sporting a pageboy hairstyle that is reminiscent of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction; Smith shouts out verse over thick slabs of Guitar, Bass and Drums. The Representative of Corwood Industries confines himself to electric guitar for the entire set. His fully bearded face is seldom seen. Mostly, we get shots of the man from the waist down or close ups of his hands playing the guitar.

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In keeping with the fast and furious spirit of “Houston Thursday”, here is a brisk wind sprint through the track list:

My Letters – DVD opens with artsy fartsy camera work set against a staccato eighth note groove. Droning metal mayhem sets the pace for the remainder of the set. Opening missive, “You don’t understand my voice”.

Emergency – Old school thrash quickie for the A.D.D. sufferer. The homer crowd is clearly into it and cheers lustily after each number. Smith advises, “You should learn how to ride a bike”.

Your Designs – Concise little ditty that answers the musical question, ‘who gives a shit?’ Key lyrics, “I don’t want to know your designs, I don’t want to know your thoughts, I don’t want to have a clue about you. Not knowing is better… You confuse me, you confuse everyone…” Well done.

Dallas Bitches – Nice razor wire guitar work from The Representative in support of Sheila Smith’s rant about…well…Dallas Bitches.

On The Metro – Prickly echoed guitar squall set to a nice bass hook and syncopated drum work. Sheila likes cars about as much as she does Dallas Bitches.

Walk Talk Leave – Sheila looks amazing. But, she’s pissed because people are jackoffs. “They exist to resist”. They are also crappy listeners; because apparently, they have water in their ears.

Asked For A Refund – One of the longer entries at 3:20, The Rep kicks things off with a space needle guitar intro. Then Sheila testifies, “They cut me open and I did not bleed…they sewed me back up”. Sheila’s desire for a refund remains unrequited.

Can’t Hear You – More auditory problems ensue as Sheila laments “I can’t hear you, even while I am listening”. One of the few selections on “Houston Thursday” that courts dispensability. Nice bass line though. The Representative finally makes his verbal presence felt with two well timed grunts.

Floor – Throughout “Houston Thursday” The Representative of Corwood Industries (aka Jandek) mixes in liberal amounts of echo to pleasing effect. Moreover, his guitar work boasts an atonal cogency that is eye opening. Part way through “Floor”, the bassist and drummer ‘floor it’ unexpectedly and drive the tune into a nice concrete wall ending.

Chit Chat – Sheila regains control of the stage and eloquently communicates her inability to communicate. The Representative kills it on guitar. One of the best tracks on the DVD. Really could have gone on a bit longer.

Sit On Your Feet – Speed metal drumming in support of The Representative. Smith sits at the feet of The Representative in another paean to ineloquence.

Not Think – Nice jazzmeat drum solo starts things up as The Representative does some higher register lead guitar work suitable for a slasher flick, then dives down to some thick, lower register improvisation that brings to mind some of Robert Fripp’s more anarchic moments.

Books That I Read – Lo tech/high concept camera angle brings us into the audience for the first time. Guitar, Bass and Drums come at each other from all directions – fists flying – until a sudden breakdown ends the piece. Impressive.

Beholden To You – Still viewing from the audience, the band slams in and we find Sheila (stage right) kvetching about being too short for the microphone. The Representative guides the way with a wall of red noise, then switches gears to some nuanced lead work and back again.

People Will Talk – Dumb as dirt drumbeat starts in support of Jandek’s wall of grunge. Close ups of Sheila evoke the image of a pretty little Goth princess who could murder you in your sleep after giving you the best sex of your life.

Galveston – Sheila Smith scores more face time and the camera clearly loves her. Key lyrics, “She’s in charge, she’s responsible, she takes care of us all. We love her, but we don’t know her.” And, “I moved to Houston after the flood.” Sheila also states unequivocally that she doesn’t believe in renters insurance. Jimmy Webb run for your life.

Glass Boxes – Weirdest thing, my reliable old hi-fi receiver packed up and took a shit right before this track commenced. Spooky. Anyway, viewing this without sound gave me an appreciation for the videography which appears to be a single camera shoot. The vibe of the music is captured and augmented by creative use of angles, movement and light (or) lack thereof. Textbook example of DIY Punk videography – if there is such a thing. Musically, “Glass Boxes” is a slow burn monologue that finds band and Sheila playing off each other. Smith describes a visit to an art exhibit where the artists are housed in glass boxes. Armed only with a pamphlet and instructions to keep smiling, the narrator tries to make sense of it all without much success. After some initial musical fireworks, the flame of the song flickers and slowly extinguishes itself courtesy of a delicate drum beat fade out. Show’s over.

Houston is Jandek’s hometown. It makes sense that he would do some of his best work on his home turf. “Houston Thursday” is a refreshing change-up from Jandek’s supersized offerings in recent years. Fans of L.A. speed-punk merchants – The Minutemen and noise-pop purveyors Beast of Beast will find comfort here. This DVD also reveals Sheila Smith to be a key player in Jandek’s late period renaissance. Among the many live DVD concert performances that inhabit The Corwood Industries catalog, “Houston Thursday” stands as one of the best.

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To visit the Corwood Industries catalog click >>corwoodindustries.com/

 

Debut Albums that Shook My World – Lene Lovich “Stateless”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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LENE LOVICH – STATELESS (1978)

They were called “promotional films” back then. There was no television broadcast channel dedicated to music. MTV was a few years off. The Z Channel was the one cable channel on the block where you could watch movies intended for mature audiences. Now and then you would see a band you liked on The Midnight Special or In Concert. There were a few local music shows on TV too. But, not many.

Anyway, promotional films were becoming the main avenue for up and coming British artists to plant their flag on U.S. soil. That’s how I found Kate Bush. Then, one day Lene Lovich came.

Kate Bush was odd and ethereal. Lene Lovich was just plain weird…and wonderful. She just materialized on my television one night. Exotic, pretty and tough as nails. Never saw that combination of attributes in a woman before. She was Punk, but not really. It was a whole different ball game. In her music I heard Classical, Motown, and Rockabilly…the works. Her first song that made it over to the states was “Lucky Number”. The film for that song was from a hipper world than the one I lived in. Lene’s boyfriend (Les Chappel) was the guitar player and looked ominous with his shaved head. Not like today – when everyone from your cable guy to your coffee barista is a skinhead. Back then, in the era of Prog caped-crusaders with flowing locks, it was a real statement. A statement of what, I was wasn’t sure. I wasn’t jealous of Les because he didn’t seem like a typical yob boyfriend. He seemed more like Lene’s loyal subject and henchman. Indeed, the video showed the band standing well behind Lene bowing in submission while she declared:

“…everything I do I take complete control, that’s where I’m coming from. My Lucky Number is one”

The only question that remained was; where can I buy this goddamned record?

Stateless was her first album and everything about it was perfect. This was an album by a female artist, but the artwork was refreshingly absent  pinks, pastels and squiggly graphics. The American version had Lene facing the camera, unsmiling, shot from the waist up. Giving nothing away. Wearing a black tunic like those favored by Communist politburo officials. She looked like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung reincarnated as a hot chick. Even had a dimple on her chin like Mao. Love at first sight.

The back cover was equally austere black and white. Nobody could guess what era this album came from if they didn’t know already. It was the perfect tonic for a lost, inquiring, non-conformist punk like me. There was a time when kids didn’t want to fit in, or wear the same poncy sneakers as everybody else. We didn’t want our heroes to look like us. We wanted something out of this world; or at the very least, not of our world. Lene was a British artist, born in Detroit with Yugoslavian ancestry. Maybe there was a god.

Lene would show up fairly regularly on TV. I can’t remember which shows. But, somehow she found me. Then came the film for “Say When”. It was a live band performance mimed to the record. Didn’t matter. The film showed a town hall full of kids, arms locked and smashed together like sardines going ape shit. There was Lene, braids down to her ass, blissfully ignorant of any fire code, gleefully detonating this explosion of teen hormones. Little did I know the woman was 30 years old.

Lene had a hot hand. Kate Bush couldn’t gain any traction with the American audience but Lene was making her mark. After Stateless, came the album Flex and a thunderbolt from the heavens, “Bird Song”. “Bird Song” (the film) got a lot of play in America. I was surprised it didn’t do better on Billboard, but I saw it on TV a lot. Lene in a wedding gown, in mourning dress, in graveyards, stalked by evil priests.  Beautiful, dour, bold, and gothic. I fell hard under the spell of “Bird Song”, Her vocals were from another dimension. I then realized that at the core of all great art there was sadness. Happy songs were stupid.

Lene needed a hit, so she came up with “New Toy”. The perfect single. She swung the hammer that drove the final nail into the disco coffin by becoming the first musical artist to put on a concert at the disco mecca Studio 54. She was on her way. Incredible performer. Better than Jagger even. Nothing could stop her it seemed.

Then she was gone. She didn’t say goodbye. She just wasn’t there anymore. Me and my friends got older and started making our own music and hooking up with girls. The new wave of rock music (inspired by Punk) got co-opted by the dweebs in The Biz. They hogtied it, categorized it, and gave us Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Stiff records didn’t think Lene was commercial enough so they held up her next album for two years. Just long enough for Michael Jackson to happen. Just long enough for the Hip Hop hoards to arm themselves with their beatboxes and begin their long march, trampling over all that stood before. The music world slowly but surely began its fade to black.

Lene Lovich wasn’t made for this world, but she stopped by for a visit and left us some cool presents before she de-materialized. Stateless was one of those gifts. We never got to see the production of ‘Lene Lovich Superstar’. But we will always have the legend. Legends are better than stars. They endure.

BJORK – “VULNICURA” (ALBUM REVIEW)

 Authored by Dale Nickey:

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,,,,this time it’s personal…..

The album “Vulnicura” represents a return to Bjork’s musical core elements. Those being, voice, strings and beats. The most obvious antecedent to this new work would be Bjork’s fifth album “Vespertine”. However, where “Vespertine” chronicled a contented solitude and retreat to the interior world of home; this new record examines – by torchlight – the chambers of a wounded soul. This is Bjork’s breakup album, her “Blood On The Tracks”. And the person of interest is Bjork’s longtime companion, collaborator and father of her second child, Matthew Barney.

The fact that Barney is a filmmaker who collaborated with Bjork on film explains the cinematic gravitas of “Vulnicura”. However, the scale is not widescreen, its tightly framed and spare. The strings on “Vespertine” were panoramic and patriotic. Bjork’s string arrangements on “Vulnicura” are compressed and drip with melodrama. “Vulnicura” is a one woman, nine-act play, save a cameo from Antony (of The Johnsons) on “Atom Dance”. On this album it’s Bjork’s voice that dominates the sonic landscape.  And it’s a career performance.

Bjorkologists will look back at the previous three albums, “Medulla”, “Volta” and “Biophilia” as the artist’s grand troika of her outsider, experimental period. These albums probed the outer frontier of sound, rhythm and technology and inhabit a distant elliptical orbit in Bjork’s discography. However, “Vulnicura” brings it all back home; an artistic shift that is wise, welcome and challenging.

This is the artist’s most emotionally naked album. It is somewhat disconcerting to hear Bjork suffering on record. We have come to view her as some sort of alpha-fem super hero under the emotional sway of no man or entity. Now she hurts, a man did her wrong and she telling the world about it without the buffering agent of a character or musical concept. Indeed, on the cover we find our heroine dressed in mourning black with a deep, gaping wound in her chest for all the world to see; spikes emanating from her head and arms protecting her from any kiss or caress that might presage more heartbreak.

The lyrics scan like a nine part deposition testifying her need for clarity, her hope for rapprochement and her grief at the collapse of her triangle of love that defines the traditional family unit of father, mother, child. And in the end, a steely, Icelandic acceptance that she’s been cut adrift by an emotionally disconnected man who loved her less than he was loved. Bjork is an artist who has traditionally obfuscated personal emotions and feelings by inhabiting different characters for each album. All of whom were obviously different incarnations of the artist, but still remained alien and just beyond our grasp. On “Vulnicura”, her lyric-thoughts seem like sudden bursts of emotional epiphany written on the fly in restaurants, airports, and hotel rooms across the globe; pieced together at a later date, like some emotional jigsaw puzzle of the heart.

You’ll find no breakthrough hit single on “Vulnicura”. No hooks, riffs or choruses to hum on your morning commute. Bjork didn’t make this album for us. In a sense, she’s dumped her emotional garbage on us – the devoted listeners. But it’s a fascinating heap, strewn with all things sparkling and pulsating. Semi-precious gems, discarded living organs and cloth pages ripped and crumpled from a leather-bound diary. A glorious mess, projectile vomited from the heart. Bjork can’t make an inconsequential album it seems. This one sticks to you and grows. However, is “Vulnicura” her masterpiece?

Possibly… maybe.

************************************************************************************************************************************ (Editors Note: Due to time constraints a track by track overview was not available by press time. Will follow at later date)