80’s Bands Time Forgot (Spotlight) – BEAST OF BEAST

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Beast Of Beast (Sex Drugs And Noise) 1982

Vocallist/Songwriter/Chanteuse Virginia Macolino paid her L.A. dues in spades.  While leading the Prog-Punk outfit Virginia And The Slims through an 18 month club slog,  she was poached by Orange County Euro-pop wanna-bees Berlin….. Not allowed to write for that group, she got fed up after recording one album and left the band only months before Berlin became international stars.  Her answer was to take back control of her muse and form the band Beast Of Beast.  The frustration she endured in her previous bands found expression in the spleen venting debut EP – “Sex Drugs and Noise”.  Dame’ Macolino’s ‘Persian cat on a hot tin roof ‘ growl paired perfectly with the serrated edge scrapings of  guitarist Roy Felig.  On the vanguard of noise-pop before it became mainstream; “Sex Drugs and Noise” carries a hefty price tag on the collectible vinyl market.

Jandek – “The Song Of Morgan” (Album Review)

Authored by: Dale Nickey
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Jandek – “The Song Of Morgan” (2013)

Corwood Industries – 0811

“Nocturne (noun) (French: “Nocturnal”), in music, a composition inspired by, or evocative of, the night, and cultivated in the 19th century primarily as a character piece for piano.” From Encyclopedia Britannica

I committed to reviewing Jandek’s latest album. “The Song Of Morgan”, a nine CD box set. Corwood Industries confirms that this is an entirely new work.   “The Song of Morgan” is an album of piano nocturnes;, nine of them, one continuous hour-long piece per CD. I don’t know how you go about reviewing something like this. It took two hours just to transfer the damn thing into my IPOD.

The artwork on the box set “The Song of Morgan” is as sparse and minimal as the music is expansive and plentiful. The cover photo is clearly the artist we have seen on previous albums. However, this year’s Jandek looks like a school boy no older than 9 or 10. The box houses simple cardboard sleeves for each of the nine CD’s with the simple track designations –  “Nocturne 1” and so forth. You didn’t really think a booklet would be included did you? Is the cover photo some oblique reference to Dorian Gray? Has Jandek recaptured some childlike innocence lost? Was he taking piano lessons at this age? Is the pre-pubescent Jandek we see on the photo the link to the classically influenced noodling we find on “The Song of Morgan”? Or is it just a ringer to throw us off the scent?  All questions we love to ask but don’t really want answered. At $32.00 the collection feels like value for the money. And, for those invested in Jandek futures, it’s collectability seems assured.

I know of no other artist who has issued a new work of this length. Without liner notes or one-sheet, I get to turn my imagination loose. However, two main questions about Jandek continue to hang in the air and should be restated and addressed. Because in the genre of Outsider Music, context and preamble mean everything.

First, let’s discuss the secrecy surrounding Jandek. The party line of Jandek scholarship holds that the person that is Jandek is a stubborn, hermetic, iconoclast who is cultivating anonymity purposely. The intent of this policy is unclear. It could be a pathological thirst for privacy. Or the representative is maybe offering a clever variation of the “hot chick theory” which states the more you ignore your admirers, the more desirable you become. Or was he sage enough to realize that when you make music this un-commercial, mystique is the best trump card you’ve got in the deck?

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As Jandek’s music has evolved so has his celebrity. I think journalists are more obsessed with preserving Jandek’s anonymity than Jandek is. The last decade finds Jandek playing live. YouTube footage finds the artist walking, talking, sitting in radio studios jamming. I think the artist we presume to be Jandek has bid adieu to the menace and mystique and has moved on, finding the role of enigma more comfortable and sustainable.

Second question. Why so many albums? Particularly when so many are so similar to one another. Add together all the official titles in the Corwood Catalog and we’re talking 70 releases. Why? The answer to this question might be relatively simple. Jandek probably just likes making records. I do. It’s fun. And, if you like to do something that much and can afford to it, then, why not? It’s probably as simple as that.

So where is Jandek the artist now? What does “The Song of Morgan” tell us? In 1978, Jandek started off as a guitar snapping primitive from another dimension. His earliest recordings are cave drawings by an artist who seemed intent on remaining inside the cave. It’s almost as if the artist decided that his journey in music needed documentation at every stage; novice, intermediate and advanced. While most musicians remain cloistered in the bedroom, practicing for the day they feel ready to present their muse to the world, perhaps Jandek decided that even his embryonic stages needed to be memorialized with an official record release. Regardless of intent, Jandek’s discography is a fascinatingly long and winding road. And, what a long strange trip it’s been.

Also we are dealing with an entirely new and separate period in the Jandek saga. When the documentary film “Jandek On Corwood” was released in 2003, all those interviewed in the film seemed to agree that Jandek’s discography could be codified into three (more or less) distinct periods. First was his guitar/vocal, delta blues from the twilight zone period. Then came his extroverted electric period where he collaborated with other musicians. Third was his partial regression into the isolated and menacing early template, best expressed in his harrowing and uncomfortable masterpiece “Blue Corpse”.

Jandek’s fourth act seems to have coincided with the release of the 2003 documentary film “Jandek On Corwood”. After the film’s release, Jandek confounded the world by making his first live appearance. Not only that, he began a campaign of concert appearances all over the globe whilst documenting them on video. The DVD’s and live audio CD’s were released by Corwood Industries with traditional regularity; thus giving us the first moving images of the man. At the start, Jandek’s live work seemed to represent the brackish work of his second period. Basic electric guitar, bass and drums squalling  in a power trio format. He started mutating quickly and began expressing himself in various configurations. Now it seems he’s a keyboard man. And, recent live DVD’s find him sitting behind an electronic synthesizer leading ad-hoc ensembles whose repertoire is the free-form ambient music found on Jandek’s 2012 release “Maze Of The Phantom”. His concerts draw SRO audiences wherever he appears.

I needed to do some homework to properly calibrate my perception of “The Song of Morgan”. So I went back to 1999 and studied Jandek’s first foray into piano music. A fifteen minute piece called “The Beginning”.

“The Beginning” is a difficult cup of tea leaves to read. The temptation is to say that Jandek hit the record button the very second he decided to sit down and play a piano for the first time. The piano is woefully out of tune. And much of the piece sees Jandek flooring the sustain pedal and letting the room ambiance do most of the sound sculpting. Other places I can almost see Jandek’s gears turning and calculating the percussive potential of the instrument as he repeatedly hammers on the upper register keys until the room echo and colliding harmonics threaten to create a new tonality. There are times it seems that Jandek might have taken a few lessons on the instrument, and other times he sounds like your pedantic four year-old toddler banging on the keys in the throes of a sugar rush. The piece is an exploration. Much of “The Beginning” is self-indulgent.  However, there’s one thing we can say with certainty, “The Beginning” is 100% pharmaceutical grade Jandek.

Now Jandek fancies himself a classical pianist.  Gone is the segregation-unit ambiance of his early work. The piano on this new collection is in tune and apparently of good quality. Likewise the recording is as clear and full as you could want. The bass rumbles and the upper registers plink as God and Deutsche Grammophon intended.  At first listen I have a strange affinity for the music I am hearing.  Probably because Jandek’s pianistic skills are roughly comparable to mine at my peak proficiency.  However, where I avoid memorializing my limitations on record, Jandek embraces the challenge and ups the ante by issuing an instrumental album almost nine hours in length. Going back to 1978 musical currency,  we’re talking 15-18 vinyl LP’s! Jandek has balls of titanium to go with his (apparently) bottomless war chest.  But, what could he be planning as a follow up? A Christmas Album? A collection of children music? I’d better shut my yap, lest I give the ‘gang’ at Corwood Industries any ideas.

So here’s my pledge. I’m going to listen to every note on all nine volumes of this new work multiple times. I will be living, driving, working, sleeping, eating and excreting Jandek’s “The Song of Morgan” for as long as it takes. Do I have a life? At this point, I think the answer should be obvious…..

CD 1 (Nocturne One)
Nocturne 1 establishes a template that will become very familiar on each nocturne.  A slow bass ostinato in the left hand paired with cautious improvisation in the right hand.  Minor keys predominate. At about 18 minutes in, things start becoming a little more active with some higher register arpeggios as the left hand becomes a little more stabbing and percussive and Jandek rolls out some well-placed glissandi. This is the first point at which things sound properly classical. Around the twenty minute mark,  Jandek starts exploring the bass notes a little more aggressively and actually demonstrates some facility in the left hand. The glissando action is now migrating to the bass notes of the keyboard. This middle section seems the dramatic apex of the piece with  random cascading note clusters and some hyperactive dissonance. Jandek then moves back into the high register with some staccato plinking that evokes the image of a farm hand stabbing a haystack with his pitchfork looking for a bothersome rodent. Jandek seems to be in a holding pattern whilst trying to keep the vehicle from going off the shoulder of the road. At 22 minutes we get some descending piano runs sounding very much like Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright on an ambitious day. We are now going into a section of free playing. Just throwing random technique at the wall to see what sticks. Up till now Jandek was trying to stay in his modal comfort zone. At certain points you suspect the artist is just ‘pissing around’ on the piano.  But it is a performance. A marathon. No punches or pro-tools trickery is in evidence. At the twenty-four minute mark, the storm has subsided and we are very much back to the walking bass lines and meditative  counterpoint, which is pretty much the same territory Jandek staked out earlier in the piece with the exception of some marginally adventurous interval movement in the bass.

Originally my intent was to studiously dissect each piano piece as one would a frog in biology class.  However, as I pursued this policy, I realized that this was as unfair to the artist as it was to the reviewer.  For example, the most rewarding moments  occurred during half-sleep.  On one occasion I awoke to one of Jandek’s more hyperactive interludes and momentarily thought that Jandek employed overdubs on one of the pieces. Closer listening revealed the passage to be real time improvisation. However, it did remind me that “virtuosity’ is subjective and totally in the ear of the beholder. Also some of his more percussive improvisations in the higher registers resulted in timbers that sounded more synthetic than pianistic. Listening to Jandek in half-sleep has it’s rewards.

More than once I fell asleep listening to “The Song of Morgan” only to awake at daybreak with the album still playing without repeat, a somewhat unsettling experience.

CD-2 (Nocturne Two) – In my research I found one reviewer who compared the music on this album to Erik Satie. The beginning of Nocturne Two definitely mines Satie territory. Whereas Nocturne One started off with rudimentary counterpoint. …..Two seems to me more interested in establishing chords as a mission statement. Pleasant if somewhat tentative. Jandek finally introduces some thirds in the bass……About seven minutes in we have a break in the action which either suggests a new movement or an edit or both.  Action resumes with some delicate upper register notes much like those my cat composes when she makes an unsanctioned walk across my piano keyboard. Not that this is a bad thing. My cat is fairly musical. I’m thinking the break at seven minutes was an edit because Jandek now seems refreshed and more assured in this playing.

The more I live with the record the more I become familiar with Jandek’s “parlor tricks’ on piano. In the main, the pieces share a common architecture in that they begin slow and meditative. Slow walks with the left hand predominate. Variety will often be found in the form of a double time of the  walking bass. Each nocturne sports a hyperactive “free form” section where Jandek is just playing what he feels with blatant disregard for harmonic or rhythmic cogency. Sometimes the stars (notes) align and sometimes they don’t.  Non-figurative would be the only scholarly description of these abstract and atonal flights of fancy.

CD-5 (Nocturne Five) – This selection starts out morose and contemplative.  After driving around a minor key cul de sac for a couple of minutes, Jandek tries to open up the piece several times with some more energetic right hand work in the upper registers. At about six minutes in Jandek double times the left hand bass figures. This finally gets things moving and Jandek starts getting a little more adventurous melodically. At 10 minutes in Jandek seems to have painted himself into a corner with his static left and figure. However, his improvisations with his right hand becomes more adventurous and sure-footed. At twelve minutes in there are some nice, delicate upper register filigree. Jandek remains in a meditative and repetitive mode until minute 38 when Jandek starts hitting the keys a little more aggressively and starts throwing in a few glissandi and some more animated bass. This commences a somewhat abstract cadenza where the listener might be surprised by some rather athletic, rolling bass arpeggios against some deftly executed right hand soloing. This goes on for a while with intermittent episodes of inspired improvisation blended with  atonal tomfoolery. Jandek hits the breaks at minute 44:00 and returns to his beloved 5 note bass ostinato that he seems so very attached to.

Listening to the album, some recurring patterns become self-evident. Jandek’s technique is mainly a walking left hand ostinato.  He has developed an athletic knack for throwing in glissandi at regular intervals in both the bass and treble keys just to keep things moving and to suggest virtuosity. I was able to spot only one key modulation and that was met with the grinding of gears.  Sometimes Jandek seems to get caught in the moment and threatens to go off the shoulder of the road.  He usually soldiers on turning mistakes and happy accidents into new motifs. Of course Jandek’s  intent is only educated guessing on my part.  My wife hears it out of the corner of her ear and it sounds pleasant and relaxing. And, if you listen to this music in the manner most people would, it is. “The Song of Morgan” is an album I fall asleep to quite often. You cannot say that about any other Jandek album. This is a good thing. And, the ability to relax and think during nine hours of Jandek is an entirely new experience to the Jandekophile.

CD-6 (Nocturne Six) – Jandek finally finds his  voice on this work. The piece opens with meaty, ominous single bass notes, with pedal to the metal sustain. Right hand bass notes are eventually introduced and the next few minutes find Jandek giving us pure sound in lieu of any discernible time signature or harmonic structure. It works.  Think Cecile Taylor on angel dust composing music for a Japanese monster movie. The concussive rumbling finally give way to Jandek’s now familiar device of the slow walk in the base with close to the bone counterpoint in the right. This music is abstract.  It’s pure sound and is a welcome respite from the piano recital ambiance that defines much of “The Song of Morgan”. 

CD-9 (Nocturne Nine)

This last leg seems a restatement of all that’s gone on before. The quieter moments of this nocturne (and others) remind me of Bartok and his masterpiece collection of studies for piano, ‘Microcosmos”. Delicate, mildly dissonant, oddly accented and calm. Like any marathon runner there is stumbling and weaving at the end of the race.  But, I still cheer him to the finish line despite the salt stains and the contorted features.

Really, I can’t do Jandek any more justice than this. And, if my review is meandering and (at times) unfocused, perhaps it’s my life imitating Jandek’s art.  At first, I felt impelled to give a note-by-note commentary of every movement in this album. Then I realized its title is “The Song of Morgan”….Song, singular.  So, I’ll take the clues I’m given and view it as a singular statement.  I have probably listened to this work more times than any other person on the planet. I have listened to “The Song of Morgan” in my car, during walks, before bed, during sleep, at work and while cleaning the cat box. I have listened with a critic’s ear and an acolyte’s heart.  I have listened both passively and actively. After this review, I may never listen to it again.  Or it might be the first music I turn to on a cold rainy day with a book in hand. “The Song of Morgan” is like the public library. You may never visit, but it’s comforting to know it’s there.

Nobody could have predicted the longevity and/or artistic evolution of Jandek.  Listen to “Ready For The House’ or “Six And Six”.  Could you have possibly imagined that Jandek would be soldiering on 35 years later as anything, let alone a classical pianist?  Bravo to the artist who invents his own reality and hands his life over to the solitary sojourn of intuitive artistry. When quantum physics and Jandek’s persistence collide in musical expression, it’s a thing to behold.  Even if only for a few seconds.

Towards the end of my research I decided to do some final market testing. I played “The Song of Morgan” uninterrupted on my portable stereo at The Office  where I work.  Where I work has a customer service lobby where people have to wait in line. Captive audience. Near closing time, the line was long (as usual). However, one of my associates told me he noticed the customers were uncharacteristically calm and quiet if not happy. Usually, close of business lines are hyperactive, impatient and noisy. Not today. Nobody complained about the music. Indeed, Jandek’s work seemed to have a relaxing effect. Well, no, I think ‘medicinal’ would be a more accurate description. But Jandek  clearly controlled the room and left an impression , which is all any artist has the right to expect or hope. And, I’m sure an entire eight-hour shift performed to the backdrop of Jandek has never been experienced by any other government office.

Plug into “The Song of Morgan”and you may hear the soul of the man. He’s left it there for all to hear. Nine hours of streaming consciousness channeled through ten fingers and eighty-eight piano keys. It may not solve the Jandek riddle, or tell you what he eats for breakfast, but it might tell you how he feels.  If the mystery and menace of Jandek has been diluted by time and Youtube, he still plays the enigmatic card expertly. However, this new work does add another question to the thirty-five year conundrum of Jandek……

….Who on earth is Morgan?

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Click Here to buy Jandek music>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/

JD

Top 10 Mental Music Masterpieces #1 (Nick Drake) “Pink Moon”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

Unbearable lightness of being

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“Pink Moon” finds Nick Drake parked in a chair alone with his guitar, foretelling his untimely death at age 26. After recording two elaborately arranged albums of autumnal perfection, Nick shuffles into the studio an unkempt and closed-off lone wolf.  With the exception of Drake’s piano on the opening track, the whole of Pink Moon is pure, uncut Drake  with no frills or production tricks. Nick’s guitar sound could have been recorded yesterday. It’s dry, full and clear. Arpeggios as solid as a Swiss watch. The melodies and lyrics hang seductively in the air and mist away. The album documents the thoughts of a chronically depressed, borderline catatonic young man who could no longer navigate interpersonal relationships. “Things Behind The Sun” is the finest song on the album. It is existential, obtuse and paranormal all in one go. The instrumental, “Horn” is as fragile as a cut class wind chime. At a scant 31 minutes, this album can be easily digested in one sitting and is best appreciated in that manner.

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Nick is poster boy for the beautiful, doomed and depressed poet in all of us.  His back story raises more questions than it answers.  He sold a pittance of records in his lifetime.  Yet, somehow in death he has become a cult sensation and a thriving cottage industry.  We have still-photos but no moving images of the man. And he gave only one brief newspaper interview in his life.  He refused to tour.  Nick Drake remains forever young; an exotic rainforest creature frozen in amber.

Nick Drake had the whole enchilada. Talent, leading man looks, loving supportive family, charm, intelligence and the opportunity of a Cambridge education in the liberal arts.  Island Records gave him carte’ blanch to make records how and when the spirit moved him.  Somehow it wasn’t enough.  Nick Drake died in his bed in his parent’s home, from an overdose of antidepressants at the age of 26.  He died a failed recording artist in life who would become a legend in death.

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Mental Musical Masterpieces # 2 Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – “Trout Mask Replica”

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band  – “Trout Mask Replica” (1969)

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Sometimes you just have to eat shredded wheat. The 1969 double LP,”Trout Mask Replica” is music’s answer to shredded wheat. It goes down hard and scratches your throat. But ultimately, it’s good for you.  The rhythms are fitful. The guitars are dissonant and clangy. And smeared over all this heap of brambles is the banshee wail of leader Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet).

Captain Beefheart started out his musical life as a Howlin’ Wolf devotee and also absorbed the dissonant improvisations of Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor.  His first recordings in the mid-sixties brought the world a unique slant on the traditional delta blues he worshipped in his youth. He introduced the world to a young Ry Cooder and planted his flag on the outer frontier of pop radio with the regional hit “Diddy Wah Diddy” on Buddah Records.  Beefheart and his Magic Band were picked up and dropped by a couple of different labels before  Frank Zappa scooped up the group and signed them to his Straight Label with the proviso that Beefheart make whatever record he saw fit. “Trout Mask Replica” was the result of this artistic carte blanch and was almost immediately hailed by the rock intelligentsia as an unqualified masterpiece.

The tracks are funny and frightening. “Ella Gura” is pop craft burnt beyond recognition. “China Pig” is a Neanderthal blues stomp snorted into a very cheap cassette player. “Dachau Blues” is a gurgling, steaming, fire drill of a song that laments the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Beefheart leads the charge with his signature poisoned seal vocals and flagellant saxophone.  Spoken word interludes are sprinkled throughout this double LP and are evocative and earthy. Incredibly, the majority of the songs are not chaotic art jams but meticulously written and arranged set pieces. Released in 1969. Rock Music has never fully recovered from the shock.

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History has yet to decide on the mental health of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart).  Eye witness accounts tell of Beefheart physically bullying other band members, There was food deprivation and relentless psychological abuse. Long suffering guitarist  Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) states with certitude that Beefheart logged many hours in the public library researching literature on mind control. In preparing the music that would become “Trout…..” Beefheart trail bossed the band into soul-destroying 14 hour rehearsals at their communal Woodland Hills compound. If Beefheart wasn’t  a nutter, then he had that peculiar brand of megalomaniacal sanity that is the domain of third-world dictators and Kool-Aid swilling cult leaders. Moreover, he repeatedly told bald face lies to music journalists in order to burnish his mythology.

In the eighties, Beefheart closed out his music career after a run of several fine albums. He moved to the Mojave desert with his wife and turned his back on the music business for a successful career as a painter. His work was exhibited all over the world and routinely sold in five figures. There he remained until his death from multiple sclerosis in 2010.

JANDEK – “Maze Of The Phantom” (Record Review)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

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Jandek – “Maze Of The Phantom” (2012)
Corwood Industries (0808)

Jandek is the most compelling indie artist at this particular moment in human history. Jandek captures your imagination. In Jandekland, imagination is the only tool you have to appreciate and curate the music. Jandek does no interviews. Nor does he provide biographical information.  No mission statement. No digital domain.  No contact information other than the P.O. Box address of Corwood Industries.  If you want to buy a Jandek record, you can go to the Corwood Industries web page and purchase records by mail-order at a very reasonable price.  But the Corwood Industries webpage contains only a stark list of titles and catalog numbers. No artwork or photos.  It has all the pizzazz of a police rap sheet.

I obtained a review copy of his recent (2012) double CD release “Maze of the Phantom”. Again, no artwork, musician credits, studio information or locale of recording was provided. No one-sheet.  No song titles. The individual tracks are designated, “Number One”, “Number Two”, etc… Perhaps Jandek knows what he’s doing. Because, the dearth of ancillary information forced me to look to the music exclusively for my answers.

Expect the unexpected with Jandek. “Maze Of The Phantom” is a mature, considered work.  Just my guess, but most of it seems like free-form improvisation.  Above all, it’s musical. It mines the outer limits of the Ambient genre. But, that’s where categorization ends. The representative of Corwood Industries uses liberal amounts of space, air and light. The pieces are non-figurative, alien soundscapes. But, beautiful in the way the vast empty expanses of New Mexico or Arizona are beautiful. An endless horizon of tone and mood. Occasionally clusters of musical activity will appear and recede like jagged rock formations or outcroppings of spikey cactus whizzing by your field of vision on a long car drive. Percussive sounds skitter across the audio spectrum like spiders on a hot plate. A female voice occasionally scats a siren wail. Flutes, harps and other musical ephemera weave in and out of the mix.  In the Ambient genre, “Maze Of The Phantom” manages to stand apart from the flower arrangement sonics of Enya, or the candle-shop ambiance of Patrick O’Hearn. And, it has none of the smarty-pants pretentions of ENO either (as brilliant as he is).

What stuns me about this album is how diametrically opposite it is to his earlier period. Jandek’s first 8 or 9 albums (for the most part) featured the snap, crackle and pluck of a twig-dry acoustic guitar; which was the lo-fi bedrock for his primal vocalizing. The music was atonal and hard listening. Delta-Blues from the twilight zone. Horrible background music for anything. You either listened up close or sprinted to the turntable to take it off. But where you might walk away and forget another artist,  Jandek keeps pulling you back in.

Research on the internet rewarded me with the album art for “Maze of the Phantom”. Jandek is one of the artists whose album art looks like the music sounds. Or is it the other way around? The cover to “Maze….” is a bleak winter landscape without visible signs of life, except the leafless trees and a body of water with a smooth, unbroken surface. However, what Loch Ness monster lies beneath?

Unlike previous Jandek albums, this one sits comfortably in my CD player and is in regular rotation on my I-Pod.  It doesn’t give me nightmares or sweet dreams.  It gives me Jandek. And it gives the world something it never tires of….a good mystery.

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To purchase Jandek’s music click here >>>>> http://www.corwoodindustries.com/

Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces – # 3 Skip Spence

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Skip Spence – “Oar” (1969):

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“Oar” was one of the weirdest albums of all time, with a back story to match. After getting “dosed” with acid, he had the mother of all bad trips.  After chasing one of his Moby Grape band mates around the studio with an ax, Spence was committed to Bellevue mental hospital for 6 months. All during his internment he was writing songs in his head; strange songs. Upon his release, he mounted his chopper and gunned it down to Nashville. He then hired out a studio and engineer and started laying down tracks on the spot. The madness is undiluted by any other musicians or producers. It’s all Spence on drums, bass, guitar and vocals. The song craft is otherworldly and carries the aroma of weed, swamp gas and madness. You don’t know if he’s channeling Tom Joad or Jack the Ripper. After the hastily recorded sessions, Skip climbed on his bike, hit the gas hard, and rode west off into the sunset. He never released another album.

It’s a topic of debate whether it was heavy drugs, or the six month stay at Bellevue that pushed Spence into the abyss of chronic mental illness. All we have left of Skip Spence is “Oar”. Half cautionary tale, half masterpiece. Spence died of lung cancer in 1999,  His legacy is a fractured monument to the Summer Of Love’s” broken dreams and broken sprit.

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Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 4 (Joe Meek)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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Joe Meek (featuring the Blue Men) – “I Hear A New World”

British producer/composer Joe Meek was certainly a sociopath and was possibly a paranoid schizophrenic. However, it’s a safe bet any condition he suffered was exacerbated by the intolerant environment of postwar Britain. Additionally, his parents desire to dress baby Joe up as ‘the daughter they never had’ couldn’t have helped matters. Meek was a closeted, alpha-gay man in an era where you could be cited by the authorities for openly expressing your same-sex preference. Professionally, Joe Meek cut his teeth in the  1950’s as a tape-op and sound engineer for a production company that produced shows for Radio Luxembourg during the British recording industry’s most intractable period. At EMI Studios (for example), recording engineers were required to wear white lab coats and run their sessions by the strictures of EMI’s bound text instruction manual. Meek couldn’t abide, so he established himself as an independent producer and built his own studio in his apartment.

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Pioneers of any new frontier usually suffer the slings and arrows of skepticism, and Meek certainly took a lot of verbal darts from his fellow record professionals. However, this didn’t stop him from creating some of the most innovative and thrilling records of his day as well as some of the worst. Meek secured his legacy by composing and producing the futuristic (1962) single “Telstar”; a record that changed the ears of the world. The stuffy establishment of the British music industry still branded Meek a crackpot. In a sense their observations weren’t that far off.  His production methods were unorthodox to the extreme and involved assault, bullying, threats and/or harassment of his male musicians and protégés. As an engineer, he routinely pinned VU meters, drenched vocals and instruments with industrial strength reverb and favored the use of household appliances as sound effects.

Joe Meek’s long-form masterpiece was the sound-cycle, “I Hear A New World”. Recorded in 1960, the album was an outsider’s love letter to an extraterrestrial, alien world that Meek surely would have preferred to this one. The album was too ‘far out’ to be released in his lifetime. It contains most of the signature elements of Meek’s sound. Including high-speed vocals, distortion, copious amounts of echo, and a strange ancestor of the keyboard synthesizer called “The Clavioline”. If you wish to examine the tea leaves foretelling Meek’s masterpiece, “Telstar”, listen to “I Hear A New World”. Meek had his moments of clarity and commercial success. However, as The Beatles and their progeny took over the music industry, Meek’s fortunes declined dramatically. Meek finally achieved closure with a self-administered shotgun blast to the head. He committed this final act of sonic audacity shortly after performing the same ritual on his long-suffering landlady who lived on the first floor below his studio. Genius seldom comes in a neat, tidy package.

DIY?… Because they could – Rock’s Greatest “One Man Band” Albums

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The “One Man Band” is the lone wolf in the ecosystem of music. Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, they have upped the ante by declaring, “we don’t need no stinkin’ band”. Whereas Brian Jones was the ultimate “jack of all trades” when it came to the band dynamic, he would have fallen short trying to make a coherent album all by his lonesome. Here then is my list of the greatest “One Man Band” albums of all time.

“McCartney” (Paul McCartney)

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The Beatles were in the process of a very messy divorce. Paul was depressed, drinking, bearded and smelly. Linda was fed up and demanded he get up off his arse and do something. Macca’s first solo album was result. Paul puttered around his home studio, played all the instruments, and knocked out this home baked little gem. Beatlesque’ genius rears its head on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and lightweight Wings-Pop is presaged in the humble ditty “Lovely Linda”.  Not the magisterial mission statement one might have expected from Paul’s first solo long player; but maybe that’s part of this album’s charm and longevity.

“Emitt Rhodes” (Emitt Rhodes)

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Emitt Rhodes should’ve been a contender. He had the looks, talent and work ethic. During the swinging sixties he honed his multi-instrumentalist chops as leader of the chamber pop group The Merry-Go-Round which had a modest hit with “You’re A Very Lovely Woman”. At the dawn of the 70’s he signed a solo deal with ABC Dunhill and repaired to his parent’s garage to build his own studio with his $5,000 advance money. There he produced the McCartneyesque’ DIY masterpiece “Emitt Rhodes”. The album charted well (#29 on Billboard) and the critics swooned. All systems were go for a productive career to rival that of Todd Rundgren or perhaps even Macca himself.  ABC Dunhill had other ideas, all of them bad. First they rigidly held him hostage to a contract that required one album every 6 months. Being an artist, who wrote, produced, performed and engineered his work in its entirety, this blueprint was untenable and illogical.  Rhodes reasonably lobbied for a more sane release schedule. After all, his debut effort was a commercial and critical success. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it, right? No deal. ABC Dunhill not only refused to nurture their budding solo star, they sued him for $250,000 for breach of contract and withheld his royalties for failure to deliver his albums in a timely manner. Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth Rhodes recorded two more solo albums before calling it quits.  Rhodes then walked out of the machinery and refused to make anymore solo records. Instead, he sustained himself as a recording engineer and studio owner. ABC Dunhill’s handling of Emitt Rhodes was one of the most colossal corporate blunders since the Boston Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth.

“Olias of Sunhillow” (Jon Anderson)

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By 1976, Yes had pretty much conquered every mountain that poked out of the sky. They’d had hit singles. Their double LP concept album “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. They were headlining stadiums. Their (then current) album “Relayer” saw them at the peak of their musical powers. What next?….Solo albums of course. For Jon Anderson, this meant spending his Yes lucre on lots of cool instruments and recording gear and building both a studio and album from scratch. Normally a lead singing specialist, Anderson pushed himself and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on “Olias….”. The album was a dense and eclectic affair even by Yes standards. However, it charted surprisingly well, and was arguably one of the forerunners of the “New Age” genre. Echos of “Olias Of Sunhillow” can be found reverberating through much of his subsequent work, most notably his ethereal collaborations with synthesizer master Vangelis.

Arc Of A Diver – Stevie Winwood

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The 1980’s separated the men from the boys literally and musically. You were either a groovy young thing or you adapted to sound like a groovy young thing.  ZZ Top added buzzing synth washes to their roadhouse musings and struck pay dirt. Yes cut the length of their songs and their hair and scored a worldwide numero Uno with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Bruce Springsteen ditched his beard, buffed up, and sang zippy ditties about “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “Hungry Hearts”. Stevie Winwood had to fashion a similar re-calibration. Previously a band musician (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), he ushered in the new decade by entering the studio alone and shutting the door behind him. When he emerged, it was with the DIY masterpiece “Arc Of A Diver”. Previously a piano/Hammond man, Winwood now discovered the joys of synths, midi and beat boxes. “….Diver” was an unqualified smash and set the table for more of the same. Winwood’s solo success during the 80’s and the revenue it generated probably had as much to do with Traffic’s induction into the Rock And Roll HOF as anything the band accomplished during it’s brief heyday.

John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival broke the bank with an impressive string of top selling albums and singles. However, when Fogerty wanted to leave the band and Fantasy Records to go solo, he had to give up all future royalty rights to his Creedence songs. The deal cost Fogerty millions. Fogerty refused to perform his most popular hits for several years rather than line the pockets of his enemies. Due in part to the psychological stress, his first two solo excursions were shaky and marginal affairs. However, the third time was the charm with “Centerfield”. Fogerty sang all the vocals and played all the instruments and fashioned a sound that was. well….identical to CCR (see “The Old Man Down The Road”).  Baseball metaphors abounded as John Fogerty got back in the game, hit a grand slam with a #1 chart topper and took Comeback Player of The Year Award. “Centerfield”  replenished the Fogerty coffers. Eventually, Concord Records bought up Fantasy and Fogerty was able to renegotiate a deal that provided closure.  However, Fogerty’s image will forever be tarnished by his decision to exclude his Creedence band mates from the Hall Of Fame Induction performance honoring the band’s admittance to the hall. Fogerty may have occupied Centerfield, but he was never a team player.

Bumcello – “aL” (Album Review)

7th official release by Bumcello….But, you can call it “aL”

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Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

Eclecticism (n) – “A conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.”

Many bands and artists embrace eclecticism. However, the band Bumcello has eclecticism encoded in their DNA.

The core of Bumcello is a duo consisting of cello and percussion. These two instruments may seem like strange bedfellows. But, sometimes strangers in bed have the most exciting chemistry. The thumping, beating heart of Bumcello is Cyril Atef ; a master percussionist whose been around the block musically and around the world literally. He’s a French-Persian born in Berlin. He has studied music at the Berkeley Institute, and played in punk bands in the San Fernando Valley. Vincent Segal is the electric cellist. He began classical studies from the age of six, joined the National Academy of Music in Lyon, France and passed his exams there before accepting a grant to persue his studies further in Canada. When he finally visited America he started absorbing the cultural diversity quickly. He started branching off into outsider art and more abstract forms of music, his credits include session work with artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Hip-Hopper Eric Bobo.

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Think “Cello” and you think about a very fixed and constipated range of timbres.  However, the cello in Bumcello spends very little time sounding like a cello. Mostly it sounds like a synthesizer, squalling feline, or something else entirely. And because it is also occupies much of the down-low terrain of the sonic landscape, the new album “aL” is refreshingly absent the blunt force trauma that deep bass grooves often inflict on loop based music.  It’s not often that bands can incorporate elements as disparate as Jazz, Rock, Pop, Classical, Hip-Hop, Afro-beat and Reggae while maintaining a rock-ribbed commitment to the sanctity of each. It takes a rare virtuosity to pervert pure forms into a satisfying whole. There are many bands that lift stylistic quotes from different continents and genres to spice up their muse. But too often it’s like a pastry chef trying his hand at Vietnamese cuisine. The result might be interesting but unconvincing.  Conversely, when I hear Bumcello’s music, I believe.

When listening to Bumcello’s music, the word ‘fusion’ pops into mind immediately. However, (in music) the word has a bad reputation formed by too many Al Dimeola records. To the low information music fan, fusion simply means taking the dexterity and mathematics of Jazz, adding a Marshall stack and a Les Paul Guitar.    Click here to visit>> bumcello.com

However, Bumcello has an achieved a richer form of fusion in both style and execution. On “aL” the basic source material is as organic as you could want. Percussionist Cyril Atef jammed with cellist Vincent Segal in the studio. The result was 13 hours of improvised music. That was the starting point. Following the 13 hour marathon jam session, “aL” had a one year digital gestation period where the multi-track, real-time improvisations were under the custodial care of producer/guitarist/singer Tommy Jordan.  The process at this point is shrouded in mystery.  All we know is that this organically improvised music was sliced, spliced, diced, cut, pasted and remixed into 12 songs. Vocals and lyrics were added after the fact. The result is a rich, detailed (yet oddly accessible) collection of bionic pop tunes.

What follows is a track by track overview of “aL”……

  1. Jacaranda – nice spacy, looped groove with a syncopated brush-back beat. Perfect gateway tune to the rest of the album.
  2.  Cowboy Engine – Unpretentious and playful. Guitar makes a rare appearance with some urgent, echo drenched chords in the lo-fi manner of Daniel Lanois.
  3. How to Ride – Probably the most commercial and fully realized tune on the record. Attractive pizzicato cello played bossa nova style is accented by djembe and discreet percussion and guitar.
  4. Time Bum – Nice restrained instrumental. Spearheaded by Atef’s syncopated drum beat and Segal’s bass line.  Lot’s of background atmosphere. Catchy with a dash of dissonance.
  5. Cello Laugh – Segal manages to coax some truly strange sounds out of his electric cello. A solo cadenza that is  reminiscent of Jon Hassell’s work in the 70’s with Brian Eno.
  6. Only Now – Killer guitar hook; wailing cello, and gentle, comforting vocals make this a standout track.
  7. Je Ne Sais Quality – Drummer Atef steps up with a meaty beat and adds some nice stabbing horn riffs on melodica as well.  Hip and funky. Great mid-tempo dance groove for when the party is (almost) over.
  8. Bows and Horses – Travelling music. That is, if you’re travelling horseback through the Sahara desert at midnight. Nice Arabic riffing by Segal. The heavily processed drums and percussion by Atef bring to mind the micro-beats of outside-artists Matmos.
  9. Changing Everything – Downbeat mood piece. With lot’s of atmosphere and a high register pop vocal.
  10. Below Low – This mournful instrumental exploits the classic sound of the cello. Cyril Atef somehow pushes the envelope while remaining firmly in the pocket. It’s meditative, hypnotic, yet the piece develops and goes places. The off-kilter drumming, the tonality of Segal’s cello and rubbery bass figures bring “Larks Tongue In Aspic”….. era King Crimson immediately to mind; except better.
  11. Wet – The only track on “aL” that ventures anywhere near American music forms.  Specifically, soul and R&B. Funky, accessible, yet outside the box. Truly inspired middle section solo as well.
  12. Little Death Dance – This closing tune brings the album back to its origins. Cello and Drums jamming in real-time.  Perhaps, a little window into the 13 hour marathon jam session that was the original source material for “aL”.

Despite the bracing originality of “aL”, one does hear echos of the familiar (intentional or not). I would be surprised if someone in Bumcello isn’t a big fan of The Clash and their space-dub excursions on “Sandinista”. And vocally, Tommy Jordan has a very pleasing, conversational pop voice that faintly echos Robert Wyatt’s keening tenor with a dash of David Sylvian’s caramel smooth croon thrown in for good measure.  But, these are comparisons for those of you who need such things.  The most accurate description of the music on “aL” is Bumcello music.

Bumcello has a lot to say, all of which you need to hear.

Click here to visit the Bumcello ITunes page >>>Bumcello link

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Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 5 (Syd Barrett)

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Syd Barrett (1969) – “The Madcap Laughs”

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The leader of Pink Floyd blew his mind out after months of continuous acid usage. After frying his way through one stupendous debut album with the Floyd, the wheels started wobbling fast. Hence, a race ensued between Syd’s first solo album release date and his rapidly evaporating muse.  Syd’s replacement in Pink Floyd (Dave Gilmore), came in to the project on a salvage mission and assumed the production chores on Barrett’s off-kilter masterpiece, “The Madcap Laughs”.

The album is awash with idiosyncratic playing, mistakes, false takes, and other unexpected events. Syd Barrett was a musical shaman/visionary with leading man looks who could have stood with Lennon and Dylan. Instead he streaked across the sky in one short 24 month Technicolor sunburst, and was gone.

It was unclear if Barrett was an undiagnosed schizophrenic who reacted badly to LSD, or if LSD was the sole catalyst for his descent into mental illness. However, it’s indisputable that Barrett changed the course of Rock and Roll with his psychedelic adventures in hi-fi. Additionally, his influence on Pink Floyd was pervasive and permanent. Their spacy improvisations and sonic explorations trace directly back to Barrett.  Moreover, they wrote several songs about him and took a familial interest in his well-being until his death in 2006 from pancreatic cancer.