Friday, 27 November 2009

Янка Дягилева 'Стыд и срам' (1991)

The definition of a 'lost' classic. Russian 'punk poet' Yanka Dyagileva's sorrow is beautiful and heartbreaking. The dissonant rumblings of cheap electric guitar introduced here on some tracks makes this, like all 'final statements', prophetically unhinged and disturbing. The foreknowledge of her spiralling depression, alcoholism and the increasing bleakness of her lyrics haunt the listener throughout.

This short album is bookended by painful exorcisms, 'Выше ноги от земли' and 'Придет вода'; both are lengthy songs with more than one passage, and both transmit an indescribable angst (especially if you don't speak Russian), although these titles should give you some idea: 'The Water Is Coming', 'Higher Than My Feet Above the Ground', 'Of Devils'...
Cracked lullabies, a recurring broken music box and an endearingly shambolic delivery reflect an innocence lost, never to be regained, and the sort of fatalistic, self-destructive philosophy that permeates the art of those under the Mighty Red Boot. We are even treated to a minute or so of Yanka's *swoon* spoken word and *gasp* an organ solo!

The title translates as Styd i Sram, or Shame and Reproach, and is Yanka's final self-released record before her suicide in Siberia, in 1991, within months of recording these songs.
In Soviet Russia you were simply not allowed access to studio facilities unless you were bland, state-authorised un-music. Yanka's vagrant lifestyle, travelling around Russia in collectives playing to the counterculture crowd, was the only means by which a dissenting artist could make themselves heard - at grassroots level. As such the Russian political folk underground was largely inspired by Bob Dylan and other Western minstrels, as well as rock 'n' roll and other impassioned forms of music that were frowned upon. Indeed, many of Yanka's contemporaries faced arrest without trial (and in some cases even torture) for their stance.

To those in the know, Стыд и срам is a punk-folk classic, although parallels could be drawn with the concurrent grunge and lo-fi scenes emerging in America. However none of those artists knew anything of the true tyranny, cultural suppression and hardship that Yanka did; and the melodies bear no resemblence to anything Western.

It's such a shame there has been no comprehensive translation of this bohemian heroine's lyricbook, as the folk-poet element is lost on non-Russian speakers... But if you are interested there are dribs and drabs of information, and all her home-recorded albums and bootlegs are free to download here:!_89/

Shout to Proskynesis for introducing me to this a while ago.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Right, a bit of a break from the norm here as this is not an album share; but I've included a few streams for you to peruse whilst you deliberate on taking the monumental risk of actually paying FIVE POUNDS for an excellent record by a lovely person whom, in all certainty, deserves the money.

Powdered Cows is the solo alias of multi-instrumentalist songwriter Martin Roberts, resident of the rolling hills and sweaty crevices of Dorset (this is an important factor as we shall find out).

Compared to the playful noise-jazz chaos of one of Martin's many group projects, Skitanja, the Powdered Cows output is predominantly of the introverted, reflective indie-folk variety. I'm crap at hearing lyrics, but based on the artwork and song titles this album is inspired by very late nights and the 'blissed-out' (as a friend recently put it) atmosphere of the countryside in the South West. It's my belief that the closer to nature you are, the closer you are to the essence of life, and this is reflected in the Powdered Cows listening experience, which is quite ethereal. 'Descent From Animals'.

From track to track the permeating sound is hushed and reverential, even when things take a darker turn it's as if Martin were staked out at 3am with Bill Oddie, waiting for a badger to emerge from its burrow. These references to nature shouldn't be misread as New Age philosophy either - think more along the lines of British Sea Power, a pastoral Englishness and celebration of peaceful life, with a dash of spirituality.

A lot of work has gone into the production, and each track is layered with instruments, synths and samples of all kinds: woodwind, strings, trumpet, drum machine, accordion, toybox, to name but a few. It's the sound of a musical collector bringing his toys out of the loft to play.
But what really ties this record together for me are the sound samples and the hissy gramophone-like effect on many of the tracks. We hear birds crowing, what sounds like pattering rain throughout 'Eyes of Knives', radio static, a kick-drum that almost recreates the sound of a record skipping on 'Little Red Lilly Beetle', and a denouement that, appropriately, reminds one of the 'Lonely Man' theme...

Every song is legitimately catchy, but it's easy to overlook this amidst the homespun, secretive ambience of the album, which is only punctuated in the first half by Angus Rudd's driving drumwork featured on such tracks as 'Hidden Tapes'. This actually rocks in a subdued, post-punk way and is one of my favourites on here; with an intro that sounds like a processed organ feeding back, and a highly satisfying Doctor Who tone in the chorus.
The Doctor Who tangent might also take us, by way of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (also featured here) to the 21st century's Ghost Box label and its esoterical manifesto of mysticism and the paranormal; a thread that I feel Powdered Cows picks up on, at least in spirit.

Hear some tunes, and possibly purchase them., free downloads.

Friday, 13 November 2009

John Frusciante 'Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt' (1994)

Who would've thought the popularity of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (whom popular opinion holds to be a gaggle of gurning, shirtless Californian twats with a few conversely great LPs to their name) could be indirectly responsible for an album like this?: A home-recorded double album of avant-garde, dissonant demons ('92 & '94 respectively) by guitarist John Frusciante. This is up there with other shadow flowers like Oar and the Madcap Laughs, except even more abstract in its style. Whereas Skip's music was a schizophrenic mess and Syd was just shot-away, Frusciante is not of that generation, and through the 90's was an extremely reclusive, emaciated crack and heroin addict with his head tightly screwed on and free of whimsy.

The songs/instrumentals are warts-and-all, frequently detuned, almost ignore melody (but not really) and sound as if they were written/recorded on the spot, freeform. If this spontaneity was the method, Frusciante's four-track tape machine (my favourite recording tool incidentally - because it forces you to make the most of the little space available) captures and preserves these moments of torment uninhibited. These recordings do not answer to gravity, they have their own laws and operate in an emotional and musical vortex. If you have experienced such a vortex or are capable of stepping into one, then you will 'get' Niandra. And no, you don't need to enjoy his group work, Frusciante has his own muse.

Listening back to this album by a physically withered, disintegrating individual, it seems miraculous that Frusciante managed to emerge the other side of the 90's; and go on to use his considerable talents to forge a decent solo career... but he'll never write like this again. He escaped the vortex, stepped through a waterfall, and today explores a different kind of spirituality. For all their macho sex-funk and Hendrixising, the Chili Peppers' constituent members cite an eclectic range of greats for influence, and Frusciante would go on to make some excellent, introspective and ambitious music off the back of post-punk/new wave/krautrock obsessions.
On Niandra however there is no trace of this later polish, it's a totally unique and isolated document - on its own planet musically and deeply personal, achieving a sort of metaphysical junkie plateau. The mistakes are left in, and anything resembling a pretty song is quickly ravaged with psychedelic tape effects and everything from tormented howls to banshee screams (made even more inhuman by occasional pitch-shifting). It's sad, ugly and beautiful.
When he finally rejoined his old group in 1999, cleaned up, Frusciante had lost all his teeth to infection and received extensive skin grafts for needle abscesses. He also suffered severe burns after his crack den burned down. Ladies and gentlemen:

I (Niandra Lades)
II (Usually Just a T-Shirt)

Remarkable 1994 interview and the only press Frusciante did during this period

Song from the album
Example of latter-day oeuvre

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Einstürzende Neubauten 'Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T.' (1983)

Here the Berlin group, led by the positively demonic Blixa Bargeld, expands its sound, underlying the metallic clatter and grating noises of the first album with something resembling a pulse (quite literally, on one track). The disturbing, minimalist sound still reigns but it's much more textured and varied this time around; O.T. is one of those albums where you will have it on in the background and mistakenly think you have been through half of it, only to check the tracklisting and find you've been listening to but a single epic composition. This progression is one reason I consider Neubauten's 80's period to be great.

We are not in the territory of conventional songwriting yet, no choruses or verses are here to give you a tether into popular music or safe familiarity, this is the world of Collapsing New Buildings - the constant disintegration and perpetuation of disposable modern structures (ideals as trends, cultures, powers-that-be, people?). You might say that musically and lyrically Neubauten are deconstructing it all themselves, but I think they had aspirations to destruction as well:
'I am waiting on the edge of the world for the new sun which burns more than it shines /The president howls at the grave of the HMV dog / And the newsreader bears his honest as bones face / The station ID, a blow on the bones.'

A few aspects of the broadening and deepening of the Neubauten sound, which has a resonance different to that of the masochistic appeal of the debut:
- synth burbles, circuit buzzes and static that provide a lower register to the found-sound ambience, which are fleshed out with a wider range of objects being struck/plucked/scraped etc
- at least twice the number of tape tracks (seemingly) in use, with several dedicated to analogue sampling and field recordings (a Hamburg fish market being one, apparently)
- occasional use of atmospheric, Central African-sounding woodwind and percussion, even dissonant strings ('Armenia')
- found sounds like water, animals and, erm, race cars...
The eclectic whole makes perfect sense as a coherent, continuous record, with an atmosphere so beautifully executed yet brooding and malevolent it probably belongs in a 'scariest albums' nerdlist. Has to be heard to be believed!

The album title means 'Drawings of Patient O.T.', O.T. refers to this man and gives you some idea as to the darker themes of the album, and perhaps Bargeld's growing sense of isolation from the world. Most of us may not be able to understand the lyrics, but this is not essential, especially when the music is perhaps a most effective narrator that often threatens to drown out Blixa's tortured exultations and improv. Not to detract from his talent as a vocalist (which is part of what defines the group) however, but it is a presence less dominant on this album.

I wanted to include a stream of a standout track, the neo-classical 'Armenia', but can only find live versions which have a totally different sound.
You can hear snippets here, but bear in mind that the tracklisting's messed up the so 'Armenia' isn't 'Armenia': Drawings of Patient O.T. – Einstürzende Neubauten – Listen free and discover music at

Saturday, 7 November 2009

the Chrysanthemums 'Little Flecks of Foam Around Barking' (1988)

The finest psych-pop/double-concept LP to come out of 80's underground Britain, and certainly the best album ever made in Leicester. Crucially, the Chrysanthemums were a collaborative effort between two great unknowns: Terry Burrows (better known as Yukio Yung) and Alan Jenkins (he of Deep Freeze Mice and Cordelia Records); our beloved R. Stevie Moore is in there somewhere too - in fact it's the spirit of deadbroke musical ambition and penpal tape exchanges that glues it all together. That and the ever-amusing absurditastic lyricks.
Alan Jenkins' weirdness and deadpan noo wave non-sequiturs are here in spades; and channeled through Yung's reliable pop know-how and eclecticism (his fascination with Japan and Germany has resulted in some top releases, some of which you'll find @ MutantSounds) give us the magnum opus from these sadly anonymous heroes.
The only way it could possibly be any more perfect is if we got to hear Jenkins' befuddled croak, and you, as a music lover, are now obliged to blog search Deep Freeze Mice and have a good old nibble.

It's probably worth mentioning that in a brief GesichtBuch photo comments box exchange I had with Burrows (really), he expressed his dissatisfaction with the mastering of the album. And whilst it could certainly do with more range and punch, I think you will be too busy having your brain cells rearranged by the CD rip presented here to give a toss. A dearly beloved album in my collection, enjoy or die!


More info here, including transcript of R. Stevie Moore's top notch sleevenotes...
... And here an inadequate video I made for 'He's Had His Bears'.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Jello Biafra 'High Priest of Harmful Matter' (1989)

Ex-Dead Kennedys frontman's second spoken word album, recorded (presumably) during his speaking tour of US universities. He's an articulate and rousing speaker, with important messages to impart - if Chomsky's stoic mutter sends you to sleep then look no further. It's a 20 year old album, so there are one or two dated cultural refs at the beginning; but the broader issues he raises will be all too familiar to the more switched-on younger listener. Some prescient, statistically-supported predictions are made that would later unfold, with consequences that endure to the present day...

3 tracks: one of 10 minutes, two more @ 45 minutes each.
Even if progressive politics and the real dirt don't 'appeal' to you, I'd highly recommend hearing this for the meat of it: Biafra's summary of censorship in America. He details the madness of Tipper Gore's PMRC (you'll never look at Al the same again) and the ensuing 'obscenity trial' brought against Dead Kennedys and the Alternative Tentacles label for the Frankenchrist album cover... In the pre-web era the breadth and depth of Biafra's research is quite remarkable - you actually believe what he's saying and, lo and behold, a cursory Google search will confirm. He's great at voices too and there are bittersweet laughs to be found amidst the tales of persecution and corruption.
Anyone who's familiar with Frank Zappa's anti-censorship efforts, testimony against the PMRC and this video in particular will find 'High Priest...' both fascinating and terrifying. I II

Black Flag 'Who's Got the 10½?' (1985)


Roll call:
Greg Ginn - Mahavishnu improv-punk, dissonant garrote strings
Henry Rollins - Banshee razor throat, vox of conscience
Kira Roessler - Bump buh bum bu bump buh, (see album title)
Anthony Martinez (RIP B. Stevenson) - machine gun allfiller/timekiller

One of me favourite albums (and a live one at that!) period, been meaning to share it f'some time. Ripped from CD (how quaint!). Rollins didn't write any of these songs, but he is on form here, spitting fire and making every lyric his own - if you know the guy you'll know that they might as well have been.
I can't think of any other bands who provoked this white-knuckle rapture of tight-wound, late-night sobriety and damning isolation. It's violent catharsis. A band where the guitarist plays lead and rhythm simultaneously!
True, the post-Damaged era of Sabbath/free jazz-inspired sludgecore yielded some seminal albums that would essentially be responsible for the grunge movement (as I and the 'key players' see it) and an anti-scene vision/work ethic that goes above and beyond the narrow strictures of 'punk' of early 80's west coast US; BUUUT one might argue that the muddy/downright awful/yet-to-be-remastered (come on Ginn, ya c*nt!) production on most of those albums never truly represented the explosive/implosive experience of LIVE Black Flag.

1984's live effort, their only truly inconsequential record, was an example of just about everything going pear-shaped as a recording and as a poorly-mixed slab o' Flag.
Black Flag lived on the road, they played anywhere anytime and, by all accounts, always delivered. A performance band, then. See the Youchoobs for prüf. They developed their sound on the road and through the cassettes played on the van's tape deck. In this van Ginn wrote his lyrics, which set up camp behind Rollins' increasingly misanthropic and punishing thousand-yard stare. They saw The Shit all over and they called it, that's the young man's duty.

And since the Flag were a band that worked more live than in any other medium, thank ___ they left us with a perfect snapshot of their final peak; before the as-yet unexplained animosity of Greg Ginn towards Rollins could sever an already frayed and exhausted relationship. Personally I suspect it was a clash between Ginn's psychotropic use (hear it in the music, the 70's influence) and Rollins' heart-of-stone sober focus. Ginn's music after Flag was, unsurprisingly, mainly jazz fusion guitar jams.

But here on 10½ we gots all the innovations of 80s Flag: the fucked-up time signatures, the anti-solos, fronted by a caged animal, ever-lengthening hair... and the ability to conjure a leaden heart in three chords like no other band on earth. These were never your average L.A. punk wasters. As for more contemporaneous influences they were in good company on Ginn's SST with post-punk expansionists Minutemen, Meat Puppets... you can hear the soundemolitions of their beloved Einstürzende Neubauten in here too.
The extensive setlist is not slim on the old anthemiklassix either - there's the customary freakout stoner jam (what better way to stick it to the skinheads?) and medley, you'll love it if you have ears and any small measure of righteous anger.
I could write endlessly about this record, its relevance to me personally, its meaning to other musicians and how BF were one of the few that 'rose above' (hurrrr) the surrounding pond life-smegma of La-La Swamp. Are you sick of the swamp and its revolting fumes? You aren't the only one. Join yourself!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Steel Pulse 'True Democracy' (1982)

My posts have been getting a bit oppressive lately, so here's something more buoyant and conscious. This record gives me butterflies and flashbacks to amazing sex that never happened. Here are ze opening and concluding paragraphs of my little brother's exhaustive review; 'True Democracy' made #5 in his 'top 100 albums' list back in April:

''I always find it hard to review reggae with sounding like some raddish who has no idea what he's on about but, nevertheless, I'll do my best to do this album justice - officially my favourite reggae album of all time. While I could just as easily call their 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution, a classic (it is the album that got me into reggae music and all), Steel Pulse's fourth album here stands for me as the pinnacle of Birmingham reggae (don't even get me started on that joke of a band called UB40). To put this album into a bit of context, with their aforementioned debut, Steel Pulse had caused a few ripples in the music industry and had gained a sizeable cult following, and had even supported Bob Marley and Burning Spear on tour. They'd become known for using much more of a polished studio sound than their roots reggae contemporaries, as well as peddling very politically-motivated, anti-apartheid songs (it doesn't take much of an imagination to think what they'd be on about for a song called Ku Klux Klan for example). As yet, though, mainstream success had eluded them. In hiring legendary producer Karl Pitterson (who had albums such as Bob Marley's Exodus and Peter Tosh's Legalize It under his belt, as well as Steel Pulse's first two albums), the band attempted to find a more mainstream sound as well as, in lead singer David Hinds' words, "your earth-man style and your militant style". It's the best way to sum this album up in a stylistic sense. From the bare bones of the instantly-recognisable reggae backbone, True Democracy employs an eclectic mix of upbeat dance rhythms, political and social commentary and a state-of-the-art feel that sets it apart from the sound of contemporary Jamaican reggae of the day. It's mainstream yet militant, preaching yet unpretentious, and one of the absolute essentials on top of that.''

''Whereas their earlier work is just as meritable, True Democracy sees Karl Pitterson's production creating a much fuller and uptempo sound and, therefore, a much more accessible one. Such is the reason if I had to recommend one classic reggae album to someone who's never heard any good reggae before, I'd go with this album. Another reason it's impossible to hate this album is because, while softening their approach in order to gain a more mainstream audience, Steel Pulse still explore the deeply evocative, militant and thought-provoking lyrical matters of social and political commentary, with Hinds incorporating some unusual subjects into his lyrics. As well as all this, Pitterson's splendid production allows each band member (particularly percussionist Phonso Martin) to really stand up and make themselves heard. All these factors are the building blocks to a classic reggae album, and one I couldn't give enough praise. Brilliant album. If you've ever thought about getting into reggae but aren't sure where to turn, I recommend this.''